Before Iraq election, Arab and Kurd tensions soar in the north
Ahead of the March 7 Iraq election, tensions between Arabs and Kurds are soaring after an incident involving Kurdish troops and forces loyal to the Arab governor of Ninevah. Kurdish President Massoud Barzani told the Monitor that a warrant will soon be issued for the governor's arrest on a kidnapping charge.
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“It’s true, it had some repercussions on the relationship with the Americans,” said President Barzani. He said his normally warm relations with Gen. Ray Odierno – head of US forces in Iraq – were back on track and blamed the problem on a local US Army commander. Barzani said the joint patrols have resumed.Skip to next paragraph
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“Without the support of the local (US) commander and the Army, Nujaifi would not have been able to go to Talkeef or kidnap people,” said Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government which runs the semi-autonomous north. He said he had seen the men after they were released and they showed signs of being whipped and beaten with rubber hoses.
Najaifi came to power pledging to roll back Kurdish gains. US officials say that he was pelted with rocks and tomatoes but that bullets were fired into the air rather than at him.
Unlike most other parts of the country, Iraqi forces and their US advisors in Mosul are still fighting an active insurgency. The violence has claimed thousands of Kurds and Arabs but the most recent targets are Iraqi Christians, who have suffered kidnappings and murders in recent weeks.
The Kurdish government has taken in thousands of Christians who have fled their homes in Mosul. "This also shows the incompetence of the local government in Mosul," said Barzani.
The issue of the disputed territories, including Kirkuk, has been set aside since 2003 but will be a major issue looming over the new parliament. Saddam Hussein expelled hundreds of thousands of Kurds from their homes in an attempt to Arabize oil-rich Kirkuk and other cities. With the fall of Saddam, the Kurds have moved to regain territory and reverse those losses.
The Kurds had controlled Ninevah’s provincial council until Sunni Arabs lifted their boycott of elections and Nujaifi was elected last year. In a measure of the complications and entrenched confessionalism of Iraqi politics, Nujaifi has refused to appoint any of the remaining 12 Kurdish representatives to government posts and the Kurds have refused to attend provincial council sessions.
“If he is not agreeing to include them in the provincial council then how will he be able to govern the Kurdish people?” asked Barzani.
US officials say they are committed to the principle of the elected governor being able to go anywhere within his province but some question the timing of the operation.
“He is the governor - as much as they hate his guts, he is the governor,” said one senior US military official speaking on condition of anonymity. “The fact that they hate his guts is immaterial.”
He said the joint mechanism was aimed at coordinating with the Kurdish side for the governors’ movement rather than getting their approval. “Was it the right thing to do? You can debate that,” he said.