Iraqi Kurds want U.S. help to avoid war
By Sebastian Abbot
Officials say American pressure keeps peace
February 15, 2009
Erbil-Hewler, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — The
closest U.S. allies in Iraq - the Kurds - feel
abandoned by Washington these days and say war with
the Arab-dominated central government is likely
without American pressure to resolve disputes that
predate even the era of Saddam Hussein.
Tension between the Arabs and Kurds is multifaceted,
but one of the major flashpoints is the status of
Kirkuk, an area that contains 13 percent of Iraq's
proven oil reserves.
The Kurds believe the area should be part of their
semiautonomous region in the north, which the U.S.
helped set up in 1991. But that position has caused
serious friction with Baghdad, including a
government decision to send in new mostly Arab
troops to the Kirkuk area last month.
Kurdish officials want the Americans to put more
pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to
resolve the disputes before the U.S. military leaves
If the disputes remain after the U.S. leaves,
Kurdistan region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani
said "it will be war between both sides."
But President Obama's administration has to balance
its support for the Kurds and al-Maliki, who is also
a close ally.
"We love the U.S., and they don't care," Barzani
told the Associated Press. "When we say something
about protecting our people's rights, they see it as
a problem, a disturbance to their Iraq policy."
Asked about the Kurds' concerns, U.S. State
Department spokesman Robert Wood said Iraqi citizens
have to rely on the country's democratic system to
work out their differences, not the United States.
"There are ways for people in Iraq to bring the
concerns that they have to the levers of power,"
Wood told reporters in Washington on Thursday. "It's
and it's not really up to the United States to
The Kurds have become more concerned in recent
months as they have watched al-Maliki, a Shiite
Arab, consolidate and project his power - moving
troops into areas claimed by the Kurds and pushing
constitutional changes to strengthen the central
Al-Maliki has said the 2005 constitution gave too
much power to Iraq's provinces and has called for
amending the document - to the alarm of the Kurds
who supported the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that
toppled Saddam and who are determined to protect
their regional autonomy.
"We try to stop him (al-Maliki) peacefully, but I
think he is a dangerous man," said Kamal Kirkuki,
deputy speaker of the regional Kurdish parliament.
"He is dangerous for Iraq. He is dangerous for
democracy. He is a second Saddam in Iraq."
Kurdish officials fear pressure from al-Maliki will
only increase because his party did well in Jan. 31
elections, when voters in most of the country chose
ruling provincial councils.
"I believe Maliki wants to have a confrontation with
the Kurds," Barzani said.
Kurds fear the confrontation may come over the
oil-rich area around Kirkuk, which the Kurds want to
incorporate into their self-governing region.
But Arabs and Turkomen want Kirkuk to remain under
central government control. Provincial elections
were indefinitely postponed in the Kirkuk area
because of ethnic tensions.
"If the U.S. brigade was not there (in Kirkuk), the
Iraqis feel strong and want to come from a position
of strength to solve the problem of the disputed
territories, which means an unstable Iraq," Barzani
The Kurdish-Arab dispute dates back decades to a
campaign by Arab-dominated governments in Baghdad to
settle Arabs in the northern oil fields and in
territory near the border with Iran.
Under Saddam, thousands of Kurds were forced out of
their homes and provincial borders redrawn,
depriving the Kurds of land they believed was their
The major Kurdish parties joined the coalition
government in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam in
2003 and hold several key posts, including the
However, with violence receding in much of the
country, issues such as the Kurdish territorial
claims are taking on new prominence.
The Kurds have also clashed with the central
government over legislation to regulate the
country's giant oil industry. The Kurdistan regional
government (KRG) wants the freedom to develop its
own oil fields,www.ekurd.net
but Baghdad wants a more centralized system.
The dispute has blocked ratification of the oil law
for nearly two years.
The Kurds have pushed for a referendum to decide
whether the Kirkuk area should become part of their
self-governing region. The Iraqi constitution set a
2007 deadline for the vote but it has been
Many Kurdish officials believe Baghdad will continue
to put off the vote without increased pressure from
"The name of the game in Baghdad is delay, delay,
delay," said Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff for
Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani. "We have
the power, the constitutional power, but we need
Vice President Joe Biden visited Kirkuk in January
just before taking office, indicating the U.S. is
concerned about potential conflict over the city.
But Washington has been a strong supporter of al-Maliki
and could be reticent to pressure the prime minister
ahead of national elections later this year,
especially on something as controversial as disputed
The issue is also sensitive for U.S. ally Turkey,
which borders the Kurdish region in Iraq and has
been battling its own Kurdish rebels.
The Kurdish prime minister said the U.S. can't
afford further delay and needs to push for
resolution before its troops leave Iraq, or risk war
between the Arabs and the Kurds.
"The Obama administration talks about a responsible
withdrawal from Iraq," said Barzani. "It means the
existing problems, including the disputed
territories, need to be addressed and resolved
before the withdrawal takes place."
author or news agency, AP
does not take credit for and is not responsible for the content of news
information on this page