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 Continued U.S. presence urged for northern Iraq to secure oil sector

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Continued U.S. presence urged for northern Iraq to secure oil sector  17.4.2010  

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April 17, 2010

WASHINGTON, — The U.S. military should maintain a major presence in the disputed oil capital in northern Iraq, according to a new report.

The report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said the U.S. military must maintain a significant presence in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk even beyond 2011. Under a 2008 accord, the U.S. military was scheduled to leave Iraq by 2012.

"Maintaining a U.S. military presence in Kirkuk would provide vital crisis-management and confidence-building support in the province's sensitive security zones for years to come," the report, titled "Kirkuk in Transition," said.

The report said the U.S. military has been keeping a lid on tension between Arabs and Kurds in the Kirkuk region. Since January 2010, U.S. forces have also supported the deployment of the Kirkuk Combined Security Force,
www.ekurd.netdesigned to eventually comprise six 100-man units, with each comprising 33-man detachments from the Iraqi army, Iraqi police and Kurdish militia, known as Peshmerga.

"Washington should retain a brigade-level 'engagement headquarters' in Kirkuk under the terms of a future U.S.-Iraqi security agreement," the report, authored by Michael Knights and Ahmed Ali, said.                         

Kirkuk city is historically a Kurdish city and it lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region, Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem." Kurds see it as the rightful and perfect capital of an autonomous Kurdistan state. The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to "Arabize" the city and the region's oil industry. Photo by Josh Rushing
So far, the United States has been recognized as a credible mediator in the conflict between Arabs and Kurds over control of Kirkuk. The report said Kirkuk police chiefs have allowed U.S. forces to operate more freely than in other areas of Iraq.

"In essence, Kurdish-led, multi-ethnic police forces have provided the Iraqi lead on security in Kirkuk city since 2003, when the Peshmerga pushed aside the Baath military's 'cordon of security' to the northwest and east," the report said. "The U.S. military has consistently employed a light touch in Kirkuk, regarding the city as being in safe hands due to the fraternal postwar relations between American and Kurdish forces."

The institute recommended that the U.S. military establish a special training mission in Kirkuk and ensure that it remains in place even after most other forces have left Iraq. The report said this should be done as close as possible to the Dec. 31, 2011, withdrawal deadline.

The report also recommended that Washington and U.S. oil companies help train residents of the Kirkuk region in managing the oil sector. Oil from Kirkuk reaches the international market through Turkey in the north.

"The U.S. government and American oil companies should develop a trilateral industry training initiative involving U.S. partners, Iraq's Northern Oil Co., and the Kurdistan National Oil Co.," the report said.

Kirkuk city is historically a Kurdish city and it lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region, the population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority of Arabs, Christians and Turkmen, lies 250 km northeast of Baghdad. Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem." Kurds see it as the rightful and perfect capital of an autonomous Kurdistan state.

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city and other disputed areas through having back its Kurdish inhabitants and repatriating the Arabs relocated in the city during the former regime’s time to their original provinces in central and southern Iraq.

The article also calls for conducting a census to be followed by a referendum to let the inhabitants decide whether they would like Kirkuk to be annexed to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region or having it as an independent province.

The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to "Arabize" the city and the region's oil industry.

The last ethnic-breakdown census in Iraq was conducted in 1957, well before Saddam began his program to move Arabs to Kirkuk. That count showed 178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turkomen, 43,000 Arabs and 10,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christians living in the city. 

 
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