US forces to stop joint operations in Iraq’s north

Tikrit, Iraq (AFP)
July 23, 2011

In one week US troops will cease joint operations with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, begun in early 2010 to dampen tensions between Kurds and Sunni Arabs in disputed northern zones, a US military official said on Saturday.

Colonel Michael Bowers said that from August 1, American forces will no longer be part of the trilateral operation.

“By August 1, they (operations) will be bilateral” between Iraqi Kurd and Arab forces, Bowers told AFP at the US Contingency Operation Base Speicher outside the city of Tikrit north of Baghdad.

He indicated that US troops would no longer be on the streets in the northern zones.

“Once they’re all bilateral supervised, the only place we are is in the command and control centers,” said Bowers, the strategist for Major General David Perkins, the Commanding General for the army’s US Division North.

He said that out of 22 checkpoints across the disputed zones, 15 already had no US participation. He said seven checkpoints remained with an active US presence, which would stop at the end of this month.

“If something were to go wrong, obviously we could go help mediate,” he added.

US forces began the tripartite operations with Kurdish and Iraqi army forces, that are dominated by Sunni Arabs, in the northern areas early last year. That marked a new chapter in the US military’s role since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The US military, which currently has 47,000 troops in Iraq, began jointly manning checkpoints and carrying out security patrols in the provinces of Kirkuk, Nineveh and Diyala.

Apart from the oil-rich province of Kirkuk that is claimed by both Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish government in the north, there are 11 other disputed territories in northern Iraq.

All US forces are scheduled to pull out of Iraq at the end of this year in accordance with a 2008 security pact.

American forces suffered their worst month in three years in June, when 14 soldiers were killed, mostly in rocket attacks that Washington says were launched by Iranian-backed Shiite insurgents.

Four US soldiers have been killed in attacks this month.

The spike in attacks against US troops comes as Iraqi leaders approach decision time on whether they want to maintain a contingent of soldiers after the end of 2011.

Source: Space War.

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