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Monday, March 2, 2009

Kurdish government warns U.S. military pullout will spark war in N. Iraq

BAGHDAD — Kurdistan is pressing the U.S. military to remain in northern Iraq to prevent a takeover by the Baghdad government.   

Kurdish officials said the Kurdistan Regional Government has sent messages to Washington that called for U.S. troops to remain in the north until a resolution of territorial and oil disputes with Baghdad. Officials warned that a U.S. pullout could spark a war between Arab and Kurdish forces.

"I restate that the role of the United States should be to help resolve the problems in Iraq such as Article 140, the oil law, and the law on the distribution of its oil wealth," Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said.

Barzani's reference was to an article in Iraq's new constitution that called for the resolution of Kirkuk. Under the former Saddam Hussein regime, Baghdad expelled the Kurds and replaced them with Sunni Arabs.

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In a Feb. 18 briefing, Barzani linked a U.S. withdrawal to the growing feud between Baghdad and Irbil. The prime minister said the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has failed to fulfill his pledge to resolve oil and other disputes with KRG.

Officials said KRG was concerned that Al Maliki would wait for a U.S. withdrawal before resorting to force against the Kurds.

"[U.S. President Barack] Obama has said more than once that they will withdraw in a responsible manner from Iraq," Nechirvan said. "What we understand by a responsible withdrawal is that the United States resolve the problems outstanding in Iraq and help the Iraqis confront these problems."

So far, officials said, the United States has refused to intervene in the dispute between Baghdad and KRG. In January 2009, then-Vice President-elect Joseph Biden traveled to Kirkuk to discuss the dispute with the Kurds.

Barzani said Baghdad was also threatening KRG's economy by seeking to block oil deals with foreign companies. The Iraqi Oil Ministry has boycotted companies that signed energy deals with Kurdistan.

"We haven't done anything that is unconstitutional," Barzani said. "[Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein] Shahristani has no right to block oil contracts concluded by the Kurdistan government with foreign companies as long as the contracts respect international criteria and the constitutional powers granted to Kurdistan."

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