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27 Oct, 2010 05:28

Iraqi melting pot fears ethnic tension will boil over when US troops leave

The remaining US troops in Iraq are there to train local police and provide security in the troubled country. In Kurdish-controlled Kirkuk, the result does appear to be less violence and more stability.

But the non-Kurds living in the city fear that once US troops are gone, the ethnic mix will lead to bloodshed.

In Daquk, a suburb of Kirkuk, police carry out dawn raids to catch militants off guard. The officers have just a few minutes to get into position before sunrise so that when day breaks – the raid begins. Police act under the supervision of the US Army. They go from door to door, searching rooms, checking residents against lists of known terrorists.

The Kirkuk police, dominated heavily by Kurds, have been remarkably successful recently. They have cut terror attacks by over 50 per cent in the past few months.

“These guys are very good. And they are very good at intelligence, at gathering intelligence and developing intelligence. This is a very strong police force. I’m not worried about it,” said US Lieutenant Colonel Andy Ulrich.

But others, mainly the city’s non-Kurds are worried.

In downtown Kirkuk, there is a vibrant mixture of Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomen, each with their own historic claim to the city.

Kirkuk is a unique city in Iraq, a true melting pot of all the different ethnicities in the country. But this mixture continues to lead to extremely volatile ethnic tension.

A 2009 field report that was recently leaked by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, states that “Without strong and fair influence, likely from a third party, these tensions may quickly turn to violence after the US forces’ withdrawal.”

“In terms of security, when the US leaves there will no independent security force,” acknowledged Hussein Ali Salih, Representative of the Hawijah District of Kirkuk.

“Right now the security is only from the Kurdish side of the city. This is the truth. When the US leaves, things will get worse. There will be conflict,” Ali Salih warned.

“Arabs will stand up and create a militia. Same with the Turkomen and this will cause ethnic violence. God forbid, but wars will begin between the ethnic groups.”

An example of this violence was not long in coming. No more than five minutes after RT finished the interview, a roadside bomb targeting police, went off in the center of the city.

It appears that despite the gains that the police are making, the American troop withdrawal could easily lead to a return to sectarianism in Kirkuk. For Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomen alike, the consequences of the US-led war have left the future of Kirkuk very much uncertain.