Hundreds of Arabs demonstrated in northern Iraq on Saturday against the prospect of American soldiers teaming up with Iraqi and Kurdish troops to patrol the region’s disputed zones.
“No, no to the project to divide Iraq, yes, yes, one Iraqi Kirkuk,” they chanted in Hawijah, 230 kilometres (143 miles) north of Baghdad, referring to Iraq’s northern oil-hub city.
In August the US military said it was discussing a possible accord with the Baghdad central government and the autonomous Kurdish region to work alongside their respective armies in disputed areas.
Any such deal would run counter to a landmark security pact signed between Baghdad and Washington last year that paved the way for a gradual drawdown of US troops and a complete withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011.
“Today, 2,000 demonstrators descended on the streets to condemn a proposed joint force in our regions,” said Hussein al-Juburi, chief of Hawijah’s district council.
Iraq’s disputed zones are situated along the Kurdish region’s border with the rest of the country, primarily in Nineveh, Kirkuk and Diyala provinces.
General Ray Odierno, the US army’s top officer in Iraq, last month said he had discussed the proposals with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani, and that they have asked him “to take a look at this” issue.
Kurdish leaders have long demanded that their autonomous region, currently comprising three provinces, be expanded to include historically Kurdish-inhabited parts of Nineveh and Diyala as well as all of Kirkuk.
Baghdad, however, says the Kurdish region’s borders should not extend past Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk provinces.