KRG has quietly asked the United
States, which has helped develop oil infrastructure, to retain up to 50,000
troops in the autonomous Kurdish area, including Kirkuk.
"The Kurds like us and they don't want us to leave," Lucy Tamlyn, chief
of the U.S.-led reconstruction team in Irbil, said. "We're working with the
Kurds on goals they have set including essential services, rule of law
issues and developing the private sector."
On April 26, Mullen toured Irbil in the highest-level U.S. visit to KRG
in 2009. Officials said Mullen's visit reflected stepped-up U.S. efforts to
defuse growing tension between military and security forces loyal to Al
Maliki and KRG units.
"They know this must not be allowed to happen," Mullen said.
Over the last 18 months, Baghdad and KRG have been arguing over the
authority of the Kurdish government. Irbil has been developing Kurdish
security forces while signing contracts with Western companies to develop
Officials said the tension between Baghdad and Irbil has focused on the
future of Kirkuk. In 2009, Al Maliki security forces clashed with KRG units
in Kirkuk as the Iraq Army began to dismiss Kurdish commanders.
The prospect of a conflict was expected to increase over the next year
as the U.S. military withdraws from Iraq.