“The troops will start their operations on the 7th of March before the upcoming elections and will be located outside the city around the outskirts of the province,” said Brigadier Jamal Taher, the police commander. “They will stay outside the city and will be called to areas where there are security problems. There will be 6 units, each with 99 armed men, 33 Iraqi police, 33 Iraqi soldiers and 33 Peshmerga, under the command of an American officer, ” he said.
Kurdish leaders praised the new force while Arabs and Turkmen demanded that the force immediately cease its operations.
Muhammad Kamal, from the Kurdish Brotherly list, said,
“The Kurds are optimistic about the formation of joint forces,” continuing to add that forces will “protect voters during the voting process in Kirkuk.”
Kamal who is also one off the leading members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said, “The joint force is an element of relief for the Kurdish people proving that security forces are not monopolised by one party, but rather all Kurdish forces have been integrated.”
However, Muhammad Khalil, who represents the Arab Republican Gathering List on the provincial council in Kirkuk was far less positive about the new force, arguing that, “Kurds occupy the majority of security positions in the city and the formation of these forces will negatively impact on Arab citizens and their feelings.”
He promised that his bloc would stand strongly against the new formation and demand an immediate end to their operations.
Turkmen opposition, meanwhile, focused on their exclusion from the joint force. In a statement issued by the Tukmeneli Party, they demanded Turkmen participation, adding, “If this demand is not met, the operations of these forces should be immediately halted.”
Hassan Turan from the Turkmen Front told Niqash that deploying Peshmerga in Kirkuk violated their duties under Article 121 of the Iraqi constitution, which states they are supposed only to guard the Kurdistan Region’s borders. He demanded “strengthening the capacity of the Iraqi army in the province and the formation of an Iraqi force in the name of Kirkuk instead of these joint forces.”
The views were echoed by the National Turkmen Movement which described the formation of the forces as “an indication of the weakness of security forces in Kirkuk.” They continued to warn that this extension of Kurdish influence indicated that “Kirkuk will be handed over to the Kurds on a golden plate.”
The units were formed through discussions between the Commander of US Forces in Iraq, General Odierno, Masoud al-Barazani, the Kurdistan Region’s president, and Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. According to the agreement, troops will be deployed in all areas where dispute exists between the central government and Kurdistan Region’s government. In Mosul, another disputed area, the provincial council denounced the proposed deployment of forces there as illegitimate and unconstitutional.
The commander of US troops in Kirkuk, Col. Larry Swift, stressed that the joint troops are responsible for security and stability and are not formed to stand against any of Kirkuk’s groups, adding that, as soldiers, they follow the orders of politicians. Sarhad Qader, the commander of police forces in Kirkuk province echoed this view, emphasising:
“These troops were formed with the approval of the central government in Baghdad, thus they are legal, and their constitutionality is not open to question.”
The controversy over the deployment of joint forces in Kirkuk is raised because Kirkuk province is one of the most important among the areas disputed by the central government and the Kurdish region. Kurds demand control of the province while Arabs and Turkmen oppose the idea, preferring control to remain with the central government.
(Photo by Qassim Khider / Niqash.org)