A U.S. military commander north of Baghdad has expressed the hope that the apparent progress toward forming a new Iraqi government will have an impact on the fight against the insurgency in his area. The commander spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon.
Colonel David Gray says there is a complex web of ethnic and political tension around the city of Kirkuk and in neighboring provinces.
"It's an amalgamation of a knife fight, a gun fight, and three-dimensional chess," he said. "And that assumes that the enemy plays by our rules, and he doesn't,"
Colonel Gray says the insurgency in his area is largely made up of disgruntled members of the former regime, but in the city of Kirkuk, he says, the tension comes largely from ethnic conflict among Kurdish, Turkmen and Arab residents. He says the delay in forming a central government after the election in December has made the situation worse, and he hopes the apparent breakthrough on Thursday will lead to the formation of a government soon.
"The longer the government is not seated, the more the insurgents try to drive wedges between the politicians trying to seat that government, and the people, undermining the legitimacy of the institutions that are up and working," he added. "They are at work, and they are using both their terrorist tactics, as well as propaganda and information campaigns."
The colonel says, in addition to attacks, mainly using roadside bombs, insurgents try to intimidate members of the new Iraqi security forces by threatening their families. He says the insurgents also coerce government officials, and conduct campaigns of kidnappings and murders.
The colonel says the delay in forming a government has affected the ability of local governments to provide services to the people, services, which would increase public support for the legitimate authorities.
"In terms of getting monies, and carrying on the daily business of governance, at times, there appears to be kind of a wait and see [attitude], until the government gets seated, before they take action," he explained.
Colonel Gray also reports that Iraqi forces have the primary responsibility for security in much of his area, including all of Sulimanya Province and part of Salah a-Din Province. And, he says, by the end of this month, an Iraqi battalion will take responsibility for security around Kirkuk, although not yet inside the city.
In the areas where Iraqi troops have control, they work with American trainers, who can call in U.S. assets as needed, including intelligence, supplies, heavy artillery and military aircraft.
Colonel Gray says aggressive efforts by both Iraqi and American troops have largely prevented the area's ethnic tensions from boiling over into more widespread violence. He says control of Iraq's oil revenue makes the stakes particularly high.
"This is all a part of the game to figure out, who is going to control Kirkuk, ultimately, in the future," he said.
Colonel Gray says Iraq's new government is supposed to conduct a census in the area to determine whether it will be part of the autonomous Kurdish region, and he expects extensive efforts by all sides to manipulate the outcome of that census.