Why Iraqis in oil-rich Kirkuk want US troops to stay
US troops are due to leave Iraq by Dec. 31, but this province sees them as a key force for stability. Iraqi leaders agreed this week to begin negotiations that could keep some US troops longer.
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“The security situation is not stable here, and there are all sorts of problems and disputes,” says Ali Mahdi Sadiq, the spokesman for Iraqi Turkoman Front (ITF), the largest Turkoman political group in Kirkuk. Turkomans constitute the third-largest ethnic group in the province.Skip to next paragraph
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“The security and police forces are not ready yet to take over and this requires the presence of neutral troops, such as US forces, in these areas,” says Mr. Sadiq.
Lack of unified command structure among security forces
Several security and military groups are operating in Kirkuk, resulting in a lack of a unified command and operational structure. There are the units of the Iraqi Army’s 12th Division in addition to local police forces and the Kurdish security and armed forces known as asayish and peshmerga.
“There is a security chaos in Kirkuk. Each one of the security groups acts on their own.... There needs to be a framework to address this,” says Mohammed Khalil al-Juburi, an Arab member of the Kirkuk Provincial Council. Mr. Juburi says his Iraqi Republican Gathering (IRG) is against renewing the presence of US forces in Iraq, calling it “an extension of the occupation,” but instead endorses the deployment “of a neutral international force” in Kirkuk.
Tensions increased in late February as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) deployed thousands of its elite peshmerga forces to Kirkuk in anticipation for what Kurds said were attempts by insurgents to bring down the provincial and local administrations under the guise of popular protests. That prompted many Arabs and Turkomans to cry foul and demand the removal of Kurdish forces, indicating the extent of distrust between various groups.
Kurds want to annex Kirkuk to the Kurdistan Region to the north that is administered by the KRG. Many Iraqi Arabs and Turkomans view Kurdish attempts to incorporate Kirkuk into their territory with suspicion, considering it a move toward outright independence.
Perhaps recognizing the perils of inaction, Kirkuk’s rival groups arrived at a deal in March to reshuffle the top administrative positions. Kurds retained the office of governor, but gave up the post of head of the provincial council for a Turkoman politician from the ITF. An Arab from the IRG was sworn in as deputy governor. There have been no provincial elections in Kirkuk since 2005, and Kurds control 26 out of 41 seats in the provincial council.
“It is true that there is some sort of agreement between the groups in Kirkuk, and all ethnicities are represented in the provincial council,” says Sadiq of ITF. “But a solid agreement between different political factions is still lacking.”