Kurdish Peshmerga forces on patrol in
Iraq's restive Diyala
September 10, 2011
Diyala, Iraq, — Hundreds of Kurdish soldiers have
moved into disputed areas of Iraq's volatile Diyala
province to provide security in a sign of continuing
tensions between Kurds and Arabs as U.S. forces
prepare to leave Iraq at year-end.
Iraq's disputed territories, particularly the area
around the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, are
considered potential flashpoints for future conflict
when American troops depart under a 2008 bilateral
Two battalions of Kurdish peshmerga, about 1,300
soldiers, recently began patrols alongside the Iraqi
army in the town of Jalawla and surrounding areas
usually controlled by Iraqi police and soldiers. The
force will increase to about 2,400.
Kurdish officials said Kurds in the troubled region,
a volatile mix
Kurdistan Peshmerga Brigade in Khanaqin.
The Diyala district,
which includes a string of villages and some of
Iraq's oil reserves, is home to about 175,000 Kurds.
of Arabs, Kurds
and Turkmen, do not trust Iraq's police and army,
which are dominated by Arabs.
"Jalawla's problem is the Iraqi security forces.
They are not working well. They deliberately neglect
their duties," Colonel Nuri Abdul Karim, commander
of a Kurdish battalion, said at his headquarters on
Diyala's border with Kurdistan.
Now wary allies, Iraqi and Kurdish troops are
longtime foes. Kurds fought guerrilla battles
against Iraqi forces and took advantage of the 1980s
Iran war to attack Iraqi positions.
Jalawla, a town of about 80,000 Kurds, Arabs and
Turkmen just south of Diyala's border with Iraq's
semi-autonomous northern Kurdistan region, has long
experience with ethnic tension. It was a target of
Saddam's "Arabisation" campaigns,www.ekurd.netwhen
Kurds were expelled and replaced by Arabs.
While bombings and other attacks have ebbed
following the sectarian slaughter that pushed Iraq
to the brink of civil war in 2006-07, violence has
remained stubbornly high in Diyala as Sunni Islamist
al Qaeda and other groups wage turf wars.
Peshmerga spokesman Jabbar Yawar said the Kurdish
soldiers were dispatched to the Jalawla, Saadiya,
Qara Tappa and Mandali areas at the request of
Iraq's central government. "Kurds in those areas are
being targeted. Recently several Kurdish officials
were assassinated in Jalawla and Saadiya," he said.
Iraq's fragile government, a Shi'ite-led coalition
of Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish factions, has its
hands full with public disenchantment over weak
basic services, a lethal insurgency and a pending
decision over whether U.S. troops should stay.
Kurds and Arabs have long-standing disputes over
land and oil -- particularly in Kirkuk, which sits
atop some of the world's largest oil reserves. Many
Kurdish officials want American troops to stay after
The presence of Kurdish troops in areas under the
official control of Iraqi forces is not unique. The
two armies have joint units in parts of Nineveh
province and Kirkuk.
At the outset of the 2003 invasion that ousted
Saddam Hussein, peshmerga took up positions in
Kurdish areas of Diyala. But in 2008, the U.S. and
Iraqi armies launched an operation to root out
insurgents and asked the Kurds to leave, promising
Iraqi troops would protect residents.
"The withdrawal of Kurdish forces from Jalawla
previously was a strategic mistake. Their return now
has made the Kurdish population feel more secure,"
said Basheer al-Jalawlai, a Kurdish member of the
Jalawla municipal council.
How deep is the mistrust?
One Kurdish official said when he meets Iraqi
security chiefs at their offices, he tells his
driver not to leave his car alone for fear a bomb
will be planted by Iraqi forces.
"I don't trust the Iraqi security forces because
some of their staff collaborates with terrorists,"
he said. "Most of the assassinations take place near
Iraqi forces' checkpoints."
A senior security official who asked not to be named
said violence in Jalawla was on par with other areas
of Diyala. Sixteen Arabs had been killed and 21
wounded since January 1, compared to eight Kurds
killed and seven wounded, he said.
"The biggest challenge right now is that residents
don't cooperate with us. They have more loyalty
towards their ethnic groups."
Baghdad University professor Haider Hameed said
Kurds see the moment as ripe to extend their
"Kurds have a goal to recover these areas for
Kurdistan. They chose this time in their conviction
that the central government does not have the
ability to stop them," he said.
The reaction of Diyala residents to the increased
Kurdish military presence has been largely along
"I welcome any force that protects us. The peshmerga
presence is to restore security," said Hussain Ajmi,
a 47-year-old Kurd selling vegetables at a booth at
Jalawla's main market.
Mizahim Abd Salih, a 43-year-old Jalawla Arab, said
politics, not security, was behind the Kurdish troop
"We will face rising violence in the coming days.
Sending the peshmerga is not to protect the Kurds.
It is a political goal to dominate the area and
merge it to Kurdistan," he said.
By Muhanad Mohammed - Reuters
author or news agency, Reuters
does not take credit for and is not responsible for the content of news
information on this page