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 Iraqi Kurdistan defence official backs US troop extension

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Iraqi Kurdistan defence official backs US troop extension  23.5.2011  



May 23, 2011

ERBIL-Hewlęr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — A senior Kurdish official on Sunday backed keeping US troops in Iraq beyond a year-end withdrawal deadline, voicing rare support for an extension just months before American forces must pull out.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said earlier this month he would meet with rival political blocs to see whether there is widespread backing for keeping American forces here, with a series of top US officials having passed through Baghdad in recent weeks to press Iraq to decide quickly.

"We believe that Iraq still needs US forces, for security and for political reasons," said Jabbar Yawar, the secretary general and top official in the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

The peshmerga are the Kurdish guerrilla force responsible for external defence.                           

Jabbar Yawar, the secretary general and top official in the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region. Photo: Getty Images.
"If the government in Baghdad and the Iraqi parliament want to delay (the withdrawal), we agree," Yawar told a news conference in the Kurdish capital Erbil.

"There are still unresolved problems, like the question of the disputed territories," he said, referring to a tract of land claimed by both authorities in Arbil and the central government in Baghdad, a row which US officials have long pointed to as one of the main obstacles to Iraq's long-term stability.

Though the presence of US forces has long been popular in Iraqi Kurdistan, Yawar's public support is among the first such comments as Baghdad considers whether or not to keep any American troops in Iraq beyond the end of the year.

The peshmerga, in particular, took the opportunity of the 2003 US-led invasion to oust dictator Saddam Hussein to progress further south and east into territory that had previously been held by Saddam's forces.

There are still around 45,000 US soldiers stationed in Iraq, including 1,200 who participate in a confidence-building tripartite patrols and checkpoints with central government forces and Kurdish security officers across northern Iraq.

On May 11, Maliki called for a national dialogue with rival blocs to gauge whether or not US troops should stay beyond year-end. Anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has threatened to reactivate his Mahdi Army militia force if US forces stay in Iraq after the deadline,www.ekurd.netbut the Iraqi army's top officer General Babaker Zebari said last summer that US troops would be needed until 2020.
 

Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, AFP

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