A fascinating article telling how the ethnic groups in Iraq are laying the groundwork ( and fully expect) for a civil war. Congratulations bush , you are one of our dumbest presidents for causing this. Keep it coming.
Mixed loyalties divide Iraqi army
By Tom Lasseter
Inquirer Foreign Staff
KIRKUK, Iraq - Kurdish leaders say they have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm the south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.
Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national Iraqi army are gaining no traction. Instead, some Kurdish troops formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq’s fragmentation, which many of them say they think is inevitable.
The soldiers said that although they wore Iraqi army uniforms, they considered themselves members of the peshmerga - the Kurdish militia - and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks.
Many said they would not hesitate to kill Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted. The Kurds are mostly secular Sunni Muslims, ethnically distinct from Arabs.
“It doesn’t matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own battalion,” a soldier, Gabriel Mohammed, said as he guided a reporter through Kirkuk. “Kirkuk will be ours.”
The Kurds have readied their troops not only because they long have yearned to establish an independent state, but also because their leaders expect Iraq to disintegrate, senior leaders in the peshmerga said.
The Kurds’ strategy mirrors that of Shiite Muslim parties, which have stocked army and police units with members of their own militias and have maintained a separate militia presence throughout the central and southern provinces. The militias now are illegal under Iraqi law but operate openly in many areas. Peshmerga leaders said in interviews that they expected the Shiites to create a semiautonomous and then independent state in the south, as the Kurds would do in the north.
The Bush administration and Iraq’s neighbors oppose its fragmentation, fearing that such splintering could lead to regional collapse. To keep Iraq together, U.S. plans to withdraw significant numbers of American troops in 2006 will depend on turning U.S.-trained Kurdish and Shiite militiamen into a national army.
The interviews with Kurdish troops suggested that as the U.S. military transferred more bases and areas of control to Iraqi units, it may be handing the nation to militias more intent on advancing ethnic and religious interests than on defeating the insurgency and preserving national unity.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman dismissed concerns about peshmerga forces’ loyalty to the central government to be unfounded “speculation.”
“The Iraqi army is a multiethnic organization that is operating in a professional manner,” said Lt. Col. Brian Maka. Praising its performance guarding polling stations in this month’s elections, he added that “there is nothing… that points to any facts” that Kurdish militiamen are contemplating a push for autonomy.
“It’s all speculation,” he said. “It is simply wrong to speculate anything that is contrary to the facts.”
A U.S. military officer in Baghdad with knowledge of Iraqi army operations said that he was frustrated to hear of the Iraqi soldiers’ comments but that he had seen no reports suggesting they would act improperly in the field.
“There’s talk, and there’s acts, and their actions are that they follow the orders of the Iraqi chain of command, and they secure their sectors well,” said the officer, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak on the subject.
U.S. military officials have said they are trying to achieve a better mix of sects in the units.
But Col. Talib Naji, a Kurd serving in the army on the edge of Kirkuk, said he would resist attempts to dilute the Kurdish presence in his brigade.
“The Ministry of Defense recently sent me 150 Arab soldiers from the south,” Naji said. “After two weeks of service, we sent them away. We did not accept them. We will not let them carry through with their plans to bring more Arab soldiers here.”
One key to the Kurds’ plan for independence is securing control of Kirkuk, the seat of a province that holds some of Iraq’s largest oil fields. Should the Kurds push for independence, Kirkuk and its oil would be a key economic engine.
The city’s Kurdish population was driven out by Saddam Hussein, whose “Arabization” program paid thousands of Arab families to move there and replace deported or murdered Kurds.
“Kirkuk is Kurdistan; it does not belong to the Arabs,” Hamid Afandi, the minister of the peshmerga for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the two major Kurdish groups, said in an interview at his office in the Kurdish city of Irbil. “If we can resolve this by talking, fine, but if not, then we will resolve it by fighting.”
Asked about the prospect of a Kurdish assault to take Kirkuk, State Department spokesman Adam Erli said: “All of the Iraqi political leadership has committed itself to negotiated settlement of issues relating to Kirkuk.”
In addition to putting former peshmerga members in Iraq’s army, the Kurds have deployed small peshmerga units throughout the north, according to militia leaders. While it is hard to calculate the number of these active peshmerga fighters, interviews with militia members suggest it is well more than 10,000.
Afandi said his group had sent at least 10,000 peshmerga to the army in northern Iraq, a figure substantiated in interviews with officers in two Iraqi army divisions in the region.
“All of them belong to the central government,” Afandi said, but inside they are Kurds… . All peshmerga are under the orders of our leadership."
Jafar Mustafir, a close adviser to Iraq’s Kurdish interim president, Jalal Talabani, and deputy head of the peshmerga for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a longtime rival of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, echoed that.
“We will do our best diplomatically, and if that fails we will use force” to secure borders for an independent Kurdistan, Mustafir said. “The government in Baghdad will be too weak to use force against the will of the Kurdish people.”
He said his party had sent at least 4,000 of its own peshmerga into the army in the area.
The Kurds have positioned their men in Iraqi army units on the western flank of Kirkuk, in the area that includes Irbil and the volatile city of Mosul, and on the eastern flank in the area that includes the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah.
The Iraqi army’s Second Division, which oversees the Irbil-Mosul area, has about 12,000 soldiers, at least 90 percent of them Kurds, according to the division’s executive officer.
Of the 3,000 Iraqi soldiers in Irbil, 2,500 were in a peshmerga unit previously based in the city. An entire brigade in Mosul, about 3,000 soldiers, is composed of three battalions transferred almost intact from former peshmerga units, with many of the same men in the same positions. Mosul’s population is split between Kurds and Arabs, and any move by peshmerga units to take it almost certainly would lead to an eruption of Arab violence.
“The parliament must solve the issue of Kurdistan,” First Lt. Herish Namiq said. “If not, we know how to deal with this: We will send Kurdish forces to enforce Kurdistan’s boundaries, and that will have to include the newly liberated areas such as the Kurdish sections of Mosul. Every single one of us is peshmerga. Our entire battalion is peshmerga.”
Contact reporter Tom Lasseter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
( bigdon’s note: the article ends here but gives some good back ground information on why there is division in the first place. Who knew they would do this? I thought everybody just hated sadaam! Thats our Bush )
Two Cultures in Iraq
Kurds and Arabs belong to two distinct ethnic groups that date their mutual animosity to the seventh century. They predominantly share a belief in Islam but speak different languages, trace their origins to different geographic locations, and have different customs and traditions.
Kurds are related ethnically to Iranians; their language is akin to those spoken today in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. They have inhabited northeastern Iraq, northwestern Iran, and parts of present-day Turkey, Syria and Armenia for centuries. They were largely autonomous until the seventh century, when they were conquered and converted by the Arabs. They maintained their separate identity, however, despite subsequent conquests by the Seljuk Turks, the Mongols, the Safavid dynasty, and, beginning in the late 13th century, the Ottoman Empire.
The Kurds were promised an independent state by one of the treaties that dissolved the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, but there was no mention of it in a later treaty, and since then they have risen up repeatedly against Turkish and Iraqi governments in an effort to establish their own country.
Arabs trace their origin to the Arabian Peninsula, of which Saudi Arabia is the largest country. During the sixth and seventh centuries, Arabs pushed out of the peninsula and established a huge empire that eventually included Sicily and southern Spain as well as North Africa and much of the Middle East. The Arab empire declined with the rise of the Turks in the 11th and 13th centuries. The Arabic language originated in the Arabian Peninsula and is considered an Afroasiatic language related to Hebrew and Aramaic.