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 Iraqi Kurds divided over US military presence in Kurdistan

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Iraqi Kurds divided over US military presence in Kurdistan  24.5.2011  
By Matt Frazer, Press TV, Erbil

May 24, 2011

ERBIL-Hewlęr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — The Iraqi Kurds were one of the United States' closest allies in the 2003 invasion and in the years since. The removal of Saddam and his Ba'ath Party regime gave space for the semi autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government to develop economically and politically to the relative peace and prosperity that it enjoys today. However, the Iraqi Kurdish people are not united on the issue of when the American troops should fully withdraw.

There is an ongoing debate in Baghdad, only hinted at and speculated upon, by local and international media, that is mirrored in Erbil.

Both have given the expected party line - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said he has no plans to extend the stay of US Troops, but is open to discussion, while the Kurdistan region Defence Minister, Jabbar Yawar, publicly welcomed the idea.

But there are dissenting voices.                            
 Matt Frazer, Erbil
Last week, the spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, one half of the ruling coalition of Kurdistan, officially invited the US to maintain a troop presence after this year.

The PUK rules over the disputed territories, in particular Kirkuk, where the Kurdish military and Kurdish-dominated police force, continue to have a close working relationship with the American troops in combating insurgents.

Moreover, local Kurdish media are reporting that a secret agreement has been made between the KDP, the party of President Barzani and the other half of the ruling coalition, to create a permanent US military base in Kurdistan.

Beyond any ideological concerns, experts say the main practical issue is that of the proficiency of the Iraqi Army without US oversight. The new Iraqi Army is in its infancy, and American troops still take the lead in dangerous anti-terrorist operations in areas such as Tikrit and Mosul.

If Iraq is taken as a whole, public opinion is solidly against an extension. Whereas in the KRG, where there are no US troops, if anything the opposite is true - as the Kurds want as much support as possible when dealing with the disputed territories. The leaderships in both Baghdad and Erbil will soon have to make a solid decision. 

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