On January 13, 2010 checkpoints manned by the Iraqi army, Kurdish peshmerga, and U.S. soldiers were set up in Diyala. Similar checkpoints will be created in Ninewa and Tamim later in the month. They are being created in what the U.S. calls the Combined Security Area where Iraqi and peshmerga forces meet, but do not cooperate. These joint operations are meant to help ease tensions between Baghdad and Kurdistan, as well as improve security.
In August 2009 commander of U.S. forces in Iraq General Ray Odierno proposed joint patrols in disputed territories. To Odierno, the patrols would address two important issues. First, the arguments between the Kurds and Arabs in northern Iraq created security gaps that were exploited by insurgents to carry out attacks. Joint patrols were meant to counter this. Second, the Americans have pointed to the Arab-Kurd dispute as the main source of instability in Iraq’s future, and it was hoped that cooperation on the ground would alleviate this problem. While the Kurds immediately embraced the concept, many Arabs and Turkmen rejected it just as fast.
Shortly after Odierno proposed his plan, Arabs and Turkmen began voicing their opposition. On August 23, 2009 for example, the Ninewa provincial council, which is controlled by the Arab led al-Hadbaa party, said they rejected the idea. On September 1, Arabs and Turkmen in the Kirkuk city council also complained. That same month Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi questioned the idea during a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden while he was visiting Iraq, and a few days later 100 Arabs protested against the patrols in Mosul.
Today, Arabs and Turkmen are just as opposed. A Turkmen member of the Tamim provincial council, members of the Arab Group in that province, as well as the al-Hadbaa List in Ninewa all said they were still against the joint patrols in January 2010. Their negative opinion is based upon two issues. First, they want the Iraqi army and police to secure their provinces rather than a mix of U.S., Iraqi, and peshmerga forces. Second, they believe that joint patrols will give legitimacy to the peshmerga being in disputed areas, which many Arabs and Turkmen of the region see as being illegal and a step towards annexation into Kurdistan.
The peshmerga presence and disputed territories in northern Iraq were created as a result of the overthrow of Saddam. In 2003 the peshmerga swept south out of Kurdistan as part of the U.S. invasion. They set up de facto control of areas in Ninewa, Diyala, and Tamim provinces that they claimed were historically Kurdish, and that they wished to annex. When the insurgency began to take off, the U.S. military also asked the Kurds to help with security. The Kurdish forces have been in these areas ever since, and administered them as parts of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) with little to no coordination with Baghdad or Iraqi forces. In 2008, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attempted to assert control of these areas by moving Iraqi forces into Ninewa and Diyala that caused a crisis with the Kurds. This brought the Arab-Kurd dispute to the attention of the U.S. military and policy makers, and led to the joint patrols plan.
Joint patrols will definitely help with security, but the political affects are much more questionable. Northern Iraq is the most violent part of the country, and insurgents have carried out massive bombings and other attacks there to try to play on the differences between Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and other minorities that live there. There are swaths of territory in the region that have little military presence because of the disputes between Arabs and Kurds. Joint patrols and checkpoints will hopefully fill these gaps. Since so many local Arabs and Turkmen are opposed to the idea however, the political repercussions may be negligible. They are all afraid that the joint patrols will legitimize Kurdish control of the areas, and in turn allow for their annexation. While they would like better security, they believe the Iraqi security forces should be responsible instead. Joint patrols are likely to be a stopgap measure then, which will help with fighting insurgents, but maintain the political status quo.
AK News, “Arab and Turcomans seek to dissolve joint forces in parliament,” 1/20/10
- “Iraqi MP: Deploying Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk aims to keep it safe,” 1/18/10
- “Joint forces will be deployed in Mosul in coming days,” 1/14/10
- “Kurds accept, Arabs and Turkmen refuse deployment of common forces in Disputed cities,” 1/14/10
- “Kurds welcome Americans Kirkuk proposal,” 8/20/09
Aswat al-Iraq, “Hashemi voices reservations about joint forces presence in Kirkuk, Ninewa,” 9/16/09
- “Peaceful demonstration in Ninewa against joint forces presence,” 9/28/09
Fontaine, Scott, “Milestone: Arab-Kurdish-American checkpoints,” Tribune News, 1/22/10
Knights, Michael, “National Implications of the Kurdish Elections,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 2009
Visser, Reidar, “Maliki’s Northern Headache, and How General Odierno Is Compounding It,” Iraq And Gulf Analysis, 9/9/09
Zuber, Zach, “Three Forces Come Together for Checkpoints,” DVIDS, 1/22/10
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