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 Massoud Barzani says Iraqi Kurdistan and Kirkuk will be secure after US leaves

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Massoud Barzani says Iraqi Kurdistan and Kirkuk will be secure after US leaves  27.10.2011  

Barzani says disputed Kirkuk will be protected

October 27
, 2011

KIRKUK, — The president of semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, said on Wednesday his region's security would not be affected by the U.S. troop withdrawal but expressed concern for the rest of Iraq.

Barzani's comments were the first formal reaction from Kurdish authorities after President Barack Obama said on Friday that U.S. troops would leave by Dec. 31 according to the terms of a 2008 bilateral security pact.

Kurds have long favoured the continued presence of U.S. troops past the year-end deadline, warning of potential trouble in disputed areas claimed by           

Iraqi Kurdistan region President Massoud Barzani greets officials and residents before a meeting in Kirkuk, October 26, 2011. Photo: Reuters
 both Kurds and Iraq's central government.

"Some people believe that the situation will get worse after the Americans' withdrawal by the end of this year," Barzani said during a visit the disputed city of Kirkuk.

"The Americans' presence or non-presence will not make a difference for the Kurdistan region," he said.

Kirkuk and other disputed northern areas are considered potential flashpoints for conflict after American troops leave, nearly nine years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

In Kirkuk, a volatile mix of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen lives on top of some of the world's largest oil reserves. It is protected in part by joint patrols of Kurdish and Iraqi security forces under an experimental program set up by the U.S. military.

Long considered a potential time bomb, the city officially falls under the protection of the central government in Baghdad.

But Barzani, speaking to Kirkuk's governor and local officials, vowed the city would be properly secured after U.S. troops leave.

"We will not allow for terrorists to believe that Kirkuk has become an open field for conducting their terrorist operations," he said.

Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed virtual independence under Western protection since the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, and it is relatively stable compared to the rest of Iraq, which fell into sectarian warfare and a raging insurgency following the invasion.

But Barzani expressed concern about security in the rest of Iraq, plagued by daily bombings and other attacks by a still-lethal Sunni insurgency and Shi'ite militias.

"As far as we know, our sky is exposed, our sea and land borders are not fully protected, so the security situation should be studied profoundly to prevent any security breach," he said.

Violence has fallen sharply since the sectarian slaughter of 2006-2007. U.S. and Iraqi officials say Iraqi security forces can contain internal threats but need trainers to help build up air defence, maritime capabilities, intelligence gathering and conventional warfare tactics.

The United States currently has about 39,000 troops in Iraq.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Saturday Iraq would continue talks with Washington on how U.S. trainers can work with Iraqi forces after a complete withdrawal of American troops at the end of the year.

The oil-rich province of Kirkuk is one of the most disputed areas by the regional government and the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

The Kurds are seeking to integrate the province into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region clamming it to be historically a Kurdish city, it lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region, the population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority of Arabs, 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 southern Iraq.

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 city. 

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