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Friday, February 6, 2009

Trouble in northern Iraq: Thousands of troops flood Kirkuk in crackdown on Kurds

BAGHDAD — The Iraq Army has poured Arab troops into the divided northern city of Kirkuk.   

"This confrontation could turn into a fullscale war," a government source said.

Iraqi government sources said the army's 12th Division has deployed thousands of troops in Kirkuk amid the rivalry between Kurds and ethnic Turks. The army's deployment in Kirkuk has been opposed by Kurdish militias as well as the autonomous Kurdish government.

The sources said the 12th Division, commanded by Brig. Gen. Abdul Amir Radha Al Zaydi, has been bolstered by the Sunni-dominated Al Sahwa auxiliary police force. They said about 50,000 soldiers and police were being prepared for deployment in Kirkuk.

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In January 2009, units of the 12th Division entered Kirkuk. The sources said the autonomous Kurdish government appealed to the U.S. military to halt the Iraq Army deployment in Kirkuk.

The sources said the central government in Baghdad has sought to force Kurdish militias to withdraw from Kirkuk. They said Baghdad wanted the Kurds to return to their positions prior to April 2003.

The Iraq Army plan would reduce Kurdish influence in the provinces of Diyala, Kirkuk and Mosul, the sources. So far, they said, the military has been successful as thousands of Kurds have been dismissed from the army and security forces and replaced by Sunni Arabs.

The sources said the plan called for the reduction in Kurdish representation in the army's 12th Division to 25 percent. They said they expected Baghdad to accelerate the Kurdish purge in 2009.

"The army would prefer that the Turkmens in the Kirkuk area cooperate in the plan, but so far they have refused," the source said.

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