BAGHDAD Ñ The United States is concerned by signs of increasing ethnic
violence in northern Iraq.
The violence pits Kurdish militias against Turkmens and Arabs in the
Kirkuk area. U.S. officials acknowledge that the ethnic clashes represent
the start of a power struggle in the Kurdish zone, which has been autonomous
since the 1991 Gulf war.
Seven people have been killed over the last week in attacks in Kirkuk,
the oil capital of northern Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.
Arabs and Turkmens have opposed a Kurdish
demand for Iraq to grant autonomy to three provinces in the north that would
include Kirkuk. The Kurdish plan was discussed during a weekend visit to
Irbil by the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and his British
deputy, Sir Jeremy Greenstock.
So far, U.S. officials have tried to portary the ethnic clashes as the
exception rather than the rule. But they acknowledge that the violence could
intensify with the approach of the June 30 deadline for Iraqi self-rule.
"We have been struck by the limited number of internecine, regional or
interethnic attacks since liberation," Coalition Provisional Authority
senior adviser Dan Senor said. "We really think this is just an exception,
not part of a larger trend. But we will monitor it."
The Bush administration has decided not to alter the current state of
Kurdish autonomy. Officials said they would leave a decision regarding the
status of northern Iraq to any future government in Baghdad.
Still, the fate of northern Iraq could lead to an increasingly violent
power struggle in the region that would involve such neighbors as Iran,
Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey. Over the weekend, U.S. troops from the
army's 4th Infantry Division raided the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic
Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Kirkuk, a city of more than
one million people and which contains large Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen
"Although Arabs and Turkmens form the majority in Kirkuk, they claimed
that Kirkuk was an Iraqi city," the Iraqi Turkmen Front said. "But groups
opposing us showed their real aims by their aggressive attitude. It is clear
that they were neither in favor of a democratic Iraq nor of federal state
based on the equality of ethnic groups."
Arab diplomatic sources said Turkey has supported the Turkmen community
against the Kurds. They said Turkey has warned the United States that the
Kurds were trying to change the demography of Kirkuk and that this could
prompt an Arab backlash.
"Interference in the city's demographic structure could lead to very
dangerous consequences," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was quoted by
the Ankara-based Milliyet daily as telling U.S. Secretary of State Powell on
Dec. 14. "If the necessary sensitivity isn't shown during these
preparations, a new Arab revenge could rise in the Middle East."
Kurdish militias were also said to have grown more powerful since the
ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime in April 2003. The sources said that
while Kurds have been the most reliable of U.S. allies in northern Iraq, the
Kurds have been stockpiling weapons from arsenals of the former Iraqi army.
The militias have earned revenues from their trade in captured Iraqi
military hardware, including tanks and artillery pieces, the sources said.
In some case, they said, Iran has bought the weaponry.
At the same time, Sunni insurgents have increased their attacks on Irbil
and other parts of the Kurdish zone. KDP chief Masoud Barazani said the
attacks, which he said were carried out by Ansar Al Islam and Al Qaida,
comprise a warning to Kurds not to cooperate with the United States.
"This is a threatening message to the Kurdistan regional government and
Kurdish people not to cooperate with the United States," Barazani, who is
also a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, told the London-based A-Sharq
Al Awsat on Tuesday. "But there is no future for terrorism, particularly in