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 Iraqi Kurds want U.S. help to avoid war

 Source : AP
  Kurd Net does not take credit for and is not responsible for the content of news information on this page

 


Iraqi Kurds want U.S. help to avoid war  15.2.2009
By Sebastian Abbot 







Officials say American pressure keeps peace

February 15, 2009


Erbil-Hewler, Kurdistan region 'Iraq',  The closest U.S. allies in Iraq - the Kurds - feel abandoned by Washington these days and say war with the Arab-dominated central government is likely without American pressure to resolve disputes that predate even the era of Saddam Hussein.

Tension between the Arabs and Kurds is multifaceted, but one of the major flashpoints is the status of Kirkuk, an area that contains 13 percent of Iraq's proven oil reserves.

The Kurds believe the area should be part of their semiautonomous region in the north, which the U.S. helped set up in 1991. But that position has caused serious friction with Baghdad, including a government decision to send in new mostly Arab troops to the Kirkuk area last month.

Kurdish officials want the Americans to put more pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to resolve the disputes before the U.S. military leaves Iraq.

If the disputes remain after the U.S. leaves, Kurdistan region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said "it will be war between both sides."

But President Obama's administration has to balance its support for the Kurds and al-Maliki, who is also a close ally.

"We love the U.S., and they don't care," Barzani told the Associated Press. "When we say something about protecting our people's rights, they see it as a problem, a disturbance to their Iraq policy."

Asked about the Kurds' concerns, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Iraqi citizens have to rely on the country's democratic system to work out their differences, not the United States.

"There are ways for people in Iraq to bring the concerns that they have to the levers of power," Wood told reporters in Washington on Thursday. "It's a democracy,
www.ekurd.net and it's not really up to the United States to reassure anyone."

The Kurds have become more concerned in recent months as they have watched al-Maliki, a Shiite Arab, consolidate and project his power - moving troops into areas claimed by the Kurds and pushing constitutional changes to strengthen the central government.

Al-Maliki has said the 2005 constitution gave too much power to Iraq's provinces and has called for amending the document - to the alarm of the Kurds who supported the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam and who are determined to protect their regional autonomy.

"We try to stop him (al-Maliki) peacefully, but I think he is a dangerous man," said Kamal Kirkuki, deputy speaker of the regional Kurdish parliament. "He is dangerous for Iraq. He is dangerous for democracy. He is a second Saddam in Iraq."

Kurdish officials fear pressure from al-Maliki will only increase because his party did well in Jan. 31 elections, when voters in most of the country chose ruling provincial councils.

"I believe Maliki wants to have a confrontation with the Kurds," Barzani said.

Kurds fear the confrontation may come over the oil-rich area around Kirkuk, which the Kurds want to incorporate into their self-governing region.

But Arabs and Turkomen want Kirkuk to remain under central government control. Provincial elections were indefinitely postponed in the Kirkuk area because of ethnic tensions.

"If the U.S. brigade was not there (in Kirkuk), the Iraqis feel strong and want to come from a position of strength to solve the problem of the disputed territories, which means an unstable Iraq," Barzani said.

The Kurdish-Arab dispute dates back decades to a campaign by Arab-dominated governments in Baghdad to settle Arabs in the northern oil fields and in territory near the border with Iran.

Under Saddam, thousands of Kurds were forced out of their homes and provincial borders redrawn, depriving the Kurds of land they believed was their own.

The major Kurdish parties joined the coalition government in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam in 2003 and hold several key posts, including the national presidency.

However, with violence receding in much of the country, issues such as the Kurdish territorial claims are taking on new prominence.

The Kurds have also clashed with the central government over legislation to regulate the country's giant oil industry. The Kurdistan regional government (KRG) wants the freedom to develop its own oil fields,
www.ekurd.net but Baghdad wants a more centralized system.

The dispute has blocked ratification of the oil law for nearly two years.

The Kurds have pushed for a referendum to decide whether the Kirkuk area should become part of their self-governing region. The Iraqi constitution set a 2007 deadline for the vote but it has been repeatedly delayed.

Many Kurdish officials believe Baghdad will continue to put off the vote without increased pressure from Washington.

"The name of the game in Baghdad is delay, delay, delay," said Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff for Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani. "We have the power, the constitutional power, but we need U.S. pressure."

Vice President Joe Biden visited Kirkuk in January just before taking office, indicating the U.S. is concerned about potential conflict over the city.

But Washington has been a strong supporter of al-Maliki and could be reticent to pressure the prime minister ahead of national elections later this year, especially on something as controversial as disputed territory.

The issue is also sensitive for U.S. ally Turkey, which borders the Kurdish region in Iraq and has been battling its own Kurdish rebels.

The Kurdish prime minister said the U.S. can't afford further delay and needs to push for resolution before its troops leave Iraq, or risk war between the Arabs and the Kurds.

"The Obama administration talks about a responsible withdrawal from Iraq," said Barzani. "It means the existing problems, including the disputed territories, need to be addressed and resolved before the withdrawal takes place."

Copyright, respective author or news agency, AP 
 

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