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Kurdish Troops to Patrol Baghdad


Iraq's army is moving more troops into Baghdad as part of the new effort to stop sectarian violence there. The controversial plan includes bringing Iraqi Army units to the capital from the Kurdistan Region of Northern Iraq. Some critics of the plan oppose adding Kurds to Baghdad's volatile ethnic mix.

It is part of the new strategy to bring tens-of-thousands of additional Iraqi and U.S. troops into the capital to quell sectarian violence that U.N. officials say killed 94 Iraqis a day last year. Much of the violence here grows out of a sectarian conflict between Shi'ite Muslim Arab militias and Sunni Muslim Arab insurgents.

It is the sort of tough situation that Iraqi Army units from the Kurdistan region could face once they get here. The Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslims, but they differ ethnically and linguistically from their Arab neighbors. And former dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government persecuted Kurds, killing more than 180-thousand of them in the 1980s.

Mixed Reactions

Some Kurds oppose the Baghdad deployment, like these men in the northern city of Irbil. Other critics point out that many of these soldiers do not speak Arabic, making it difficult to communicate with the communities they are trying to patrol. And some news reports say some soldiers from the Kurdish north are deserting rather than go to Baghdad.

But Brigadier General Terry Wolff, the U.S. General in charge of training Iraq's military, has confidence in the Iraqi Army units that are made up mostly of Kurds. "I think they'll do very well," says General Wolff.

He says these units are trained and disciplined members of the national army, and he bristles when a journalist refers to them as "Peshmerga," the name of traditional Kurdish military units. "My first comment is they're Iraqi army units. That's probably most important. These are Iraqi army units, and this is a national institution. So we kind of think of it that way," says General Wolff.

Colonel Said Hazan , the commander of one of the Iraqi Army battalions from the Kurdish north says his soldiers are ready to do their duty in Baghdad or anywhere else they are needed. Colonel Said Hazan says his men know how to fight because most of them were part of the Kurdish "Peshmerga" militia before they joined the new Iraqi Army.

A Sunni member of Iraq's parliament, Omar Al Juboori, is skeptical of the plan, but hopes it will work. He says, if they are working under the Iraqi Army, then sending them to Baghdad to quell the violence is a good idea. But if they come representing only the Kurds, acting as Peshmerga, then there will be a third sect, which, he says, would be bad.

A Shi'ite member of Parliament, Shatha Musawi, calls this is a "daring step" for the Kurds. She says the Kurds will be neutral when they patrol Baghdad's streets, and not favor either Sunnis or Shi'ites.

Support from Kurdish Politicans

Some Kurdish members of Iraq's Parliament also support sending troops from the north to help bring order to Baghdad. Sartep Kakaie says the security situation in Baghdad is bad and getting worse. He says even though this will be a difficult job, it must be done, it is important to cooperate on the new security plan.

And another Kurdish lawmaker, Hassan Korbani, says this is a "positive idea." Korbani says the security plan will bring peace to Baghdad.

But the Kurdish troops face some logistical and organizational problems on their way to the capital. For example, a lack of ammunition recently forced a delay in marksmanship training for one batallion.

And U.S. Army General Terry Wolff says the mostly Kurdish units from the north will need some additional training before they begin patrolling in Baghdad. Other American Army officers say because many of the Kurds are experienced soldiers, training will focus on larger units learning to work together and polishing the urban warfare skills needed for the difficult task of patrolling Baghdad's very mean [i.e., dangerous] streets.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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