Sebastian Abbot / Associated Press – 2009-02-10 22:23:35
IRBIL, Iraq (February 8, 2009) — The prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdish region accused the Arab-dominated national government yesterday of trying to use troops to seize control of the disputed city of Kirkuk, escalating tensions.
U.S. officials consider the growing rift between Iraqi Kurds and the Arab leadership in Baghdad as one of the major threats to Iraq’s stability as President Barack Obama maps a plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
Kurdish officials are close U.S. allies who have jealously guarded their self-governing territory in the north since the U.S. helped set it up in 1991. In recent months, they have stepped up their criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, accusing him of trying to re-establish a strong centralized state similar to Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Tempers flared again about two weeks ago when troops of the Iraqi army’s 12th Division moved from their base north of Kirkuk to towns around the city close to where Kurdish fighters loyal to the Kurdish regional government were deployed, according to senior Kurdish official Jabbar Yawar.
Kirkuk is not part of the Kurdish self-governing region and is under the political control of the central government, but the Kurds have long demanded that the city 180 miles north of Baghdad be incorporated into their self-governing region.
Yawar said the Kurds appealed to the U.S. military to stop the movements of the largely Arab troop contingent. Although the troop movements were halted, Kurdish officials remain suspicious about al-Maliki’s intentions.
“We in the (Kurdish government) consider this to be a provocative act,” Kurdish regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said of the troop movements in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, OPEC members are expected to cut oil production when they convene in March, hoping to push up oil prices to at least $70 a barrel, Iraq’s oil minister said yesterday.
Hussain al-Shahristani also identified the country’s political tensions, bureaucracy and lack of funds as main impediments to developing Iraq’s oil and natural-gas resources.
The Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries already has cut production, a move that has failed to stop the dramatic fall in oil prices since July. The drop has hit Iraq particularly hard. The country depends on oil revenue for nearly 95 percent of its budget. As a result, the government was forced to slash its 2009 draft budget from $80 billion to $64 billion.
“The year 2009 will be a tough year around the world, and that will be reflected on the oil demand, and then prices will drop,” al-Shahristani told a symposium in Baghdad on developing Iraq’s oil and gas industry.
“In March, OPEC will convene, and there will be an intention for more production cuts to shore up prices, and encourage production from non-OPEC members,” al-Shahristani said.
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U.S. Military Deaths
Includes combat and noncombat military deaths:
In Iraq: 4,238 since military operations began March 19, 2003
In Afghanistan: 573 since military operations began Oct. 7, 2001
Troops the Defense Department identified in the past week as having died in foreign countries:
• Army CW4 Milton E. Suggs, 51, Lockport, La. (noncombat)
• Army Spc. Darrell L. Fernandez, 25, Truth or Consequences, N.M. (noncombat)
Sources: Associated Press; Defense Department