In mid-January 2010 joint patrols and checkpoints run by U.S., Iraqi, and Kurdish peshmerga forces were established in Diyala, Tamim, and Ninewa along the border of disputed territories within those provinces such as around the city of Kirkuk. The U.S. commander in Iraq General Ray Odierno originally made the proposal for these operations in August 2009 in an attempt to ease tensions between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The idea generated widespread opposition amongst Arabs and Turkmen in northern Iraq, but a deal was eventually worked out between the central and regional governments. In mid-February and the beginning of March the operation faced two major setbacks.
First, on February 10, 2010 the U.S. commander in Ninewa set up a joint escort for the governor of the province that led to a confrontation with Kurdish forces. The incident began when a joint force took Governor Atheel al-Nujafi to the Kurdish controlled town of Takleef. There, locals threw rocks and tomatoes at his caravan leading to shots being fired in the air. Iraqi forces with the governor ended up arresting some peshmerga troops, who in turn detained some government soldiers. The standoff eventually ended when all of the prisoners were released, but the affair wasn’t over. Afterward, the governor accused the Kurds of kidnapping. KRG President Massoud Barzani countered by suspending joint patrols, and calling Nujafi a criminal who would be arrested if he ever entered another Kurdish area in Ninewa again. After the January 2009 provincial elections in which Nujafi’s al-Hadbaa party won a majority and took over the local government, the Kurds boycotted and set up their own administration in sixteen districts that they controlled. Takleef was in one of those areas. The U.S. tried to smooth over the situation by saying that it was all a misunderstanding, but the American commander in Ninewa still said that local officials should be able to go anywhere in the governorate. Eventually Barzani okayed the continuation of joint patrols.
The second mishap occurred on March 7, the day of general voting for Iraq’s parliament. A provincial council member in Ninewa who was going to cast his ballot just outside of Mosul was mistakenly fired upon by a joint checkpoint. The council member later died of his wounds in a hospital, while eight others in his entourage were wounded. The incident was labeled a tragic misunderstanding between the two parties.
So far these two incidents have not become a national issue, but if another problem happens the joint patrols could quickly become one. Gen. Odierno envisioned the operation as a way to relieve tensions between Arabs and Kurds, which he considers the main threat to stability in Iraq. He was able to overcome a lot of local opposition to get the program up and running. The two recent events show that they may not be able to accomplish much. That’s especially true in Ninewa where there are two rival administrations, one run by the provincial council and another by the KRG. There it seems the best that the patrols and checkpoints could do is maintain the status quo. At their worst, they could lead to another confrontation that blows up in the face of the Americans.
Arraf, Jane, “Before Iraq election, Arab and Kurd tensions soar in the north,” Christian Science Monitor, 3/1/10
KUNA, “Mosul explosions kill one, injure 20 others,” 3/7/10
Reuters, “FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, March 7,” 3/7/10
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