Americans, Kurds, Arabs join forces on north Iraq frontline
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Americans, Kurds, Arabs join forces on
north Iraq frontline
February 28, 2010
Kirkuk, Iraq's border with Kurdistan region,
A US commander strides down a street in a Kurdish
village in northern Iraq, heading a mixed squad of
American troops, Iraqi security forces and Kurdish
Every man who patrols alongside Captain Nick Loudon
is at the forefront of a bold new combined security
force that has emerged in northern Iraq after months
of delicate political negotiations.
Several distinctive camouflage uniforms are being
worn, but all are sporting black armbands
embroidered with the head of a golden lion.
Americans, Kurds, Arabs join forces on north Iraq
frontline in Kirkuk.
Launched in January, the force began conducting
joint patrols from a US base outside Kirkuk, 240
kilometres (150 miles) north of Baghdad, two weeks
"The bottom line is that it shows how Iraqis of
multiple ethnicities can integrate and accomplish a
shared goal," Captain Loudon, commander of Alpha
Company in the US army's 1st Battalion 30th Infantry
Regiment, told AFP.
The force has come together despite the fact that
the Iraqi army refuses to accept the legitimacy of
peshmerga forces who are loyal to leaders of the
autonomous Kurdistan region, rather than the Baghdad
An hour earlier a US sergeant had briefed the patrol
and Kurdish and Arabic translators were on hand to
ensure everyone understands that the aim is to
"gauge atmospherics" among the civilian population.
After driving to Rizgari, a small predominantly
Kurdish village southeast of Kirkuk, in seven
US-owned MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected)
also bear the unit's golden lion symbol, it is clear
the Americans, somewhat reluctantly, are in charge.
Captain Loudon, 28, from Brockway, Pennsylvania,
takes the lead as the squad fans out across the
street, with his radio operator and a US sergeant
A detachment of four Iraqi soldiers, three
policemen, and four Kurdish peshmerga is matched by
a similar number of American ground troops.
"We are trying to be the honest broker here," said
Captain Loudon, who explains that the need to build
the force quickly meant it would rely on US vehicles
The overlap between Kurdish politics and the
military in northern Iraq is immediately evident,
something that has angered other ethnic groups,
including Arabs, Turkmen and Christians in Kirkuk
Two members of the Asaish (Kurdish intelligence)
greet the combined patrol and Captain Loudon is led
to the house of Hadi Saeed, a colonel in a peshmerga
unit based in Arbil.
He is also a senior official for the Kurdish
Democratic Party (KDP) of Massud Barzani, president
of the autonomous Kurdistan northern region.
"I am responsible for the political administration
of the KDP in Kirkuk," said Saeed, with a shoulder
holstered pistol visible under his right arm, a
reminder of the Kurdish peshmergas' historic role as
a resistance force against the now executed Sunni
Arab dictator Saddam Hussein.
Captain Loudon and his colleagues are quick to point
out that Saeed must be the main power broker in
Rizgari, with more influence than its Mukhtar
(village chief). The visit has gleaned useful
information that will be written up later.
Saeed, whose son offers water and tea to his
American visitors, welcomes the recently launched
combined patrols but he is less happy about a joint
"The electronic jamming equipment is affecting our
mobile phone coverage and the Internet. It would be
good if you could do something about that," he tells
his guests, who say they will look into the issue.
Hundreds of thousands of Kurds -- who were deported
by Saddam to make way for mainly Sunni Arabs -- have
returned or settled in Kirkuk province and built
homes since the dictator's overthrow.
After leaving Rizgari, the combined security force
heads to the nearby village of Punja Ali.
As an indicator of how potentially combustible
ethnic tensions are, local officials explain that
dozens of houses under construction in the area have
been funded by the Kurdish regional government,
irking Arabs and Baghdad.
Back at base, the police and soldiers, including the
Americans and peshmerga who all share the same
living quarters -- an air-conditioned canvas tent
with bunk beds -- happily chat and smoke cigarettes
as Kurdish music plays in the background.
"I am just a soldier. I leave the politics to the
politicians," said Mohammed Shokat Izet, an Iraqi
police sergeant and Turkmen who is married to a Kurd
and who has emerged as one of the combined force's
"I want to serve my country and will do so with
anyone, be they Kurds, Arabs or Americans."
city is historically a Kurdish city and it lies just
south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region, the
population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority
Christians and Turkmen, lies 250 km northeast of
Baghdad. Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional
attachment to Kirkuk, which they call "the Kurdish
Jerusalem." Kurds see it as the rightful and
perfect capital of an autonomous Kurdistan state.
Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to
the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city
and other disputed areas through having back its
Kurdish inhabitants and repatriating the Arabs
relocated in the city during the former regime’s
time to their original provinces in central and
The article also calls for conducting a census to be
followed by a referendum to let the inhabitants
decide whether they would like Kirkuk to be annexed
to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region or having
it as an independent province.
The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up
their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to "Arabize" the
city and the region's oil industry.
The last ethnic-breakdown census in Iraq was
conducted in 1957, well before Saddam began his
program to move Arabs to Kirkuk. That count showed
178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turkomen, 43,000 Arabs and
10,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christians living in the
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