Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Iran stirs the Iraqi pot in Kirkuk

Iran continues to stir the pot in Iraq, hoping to tie up US forces with internal unrest, or even better from Iran's point of view, take sides or be caught in the middle in a civil war of Iran's making.

Iran's latest move is to use it's Shiite militia allies to create tension in the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

This was a relatively quiet area until now.

Both the Badr Force and Moqata al-Sadr's Mehdi Army have sent hundreds of Shiite militiamen to attempt to seize the city from the Kurds. Before, the presence of the Shia militias was minimal here.

Kirkuk is Iraq's third-largest city, and was traditionally majority Kurdish until Saddam Hussein displaced thousands of Kurds in the region and replaced them with Arabs from outside the area.

The Kurds regard Kirkuk as their historic capital, and since the US invasion over 300,000 Kurds have returned to the area, and they are now the majority population again. Shiites in Kirkuk, most of whose families were transferred here by Hussein are believed to make up less than 5 percent of the local population.The Kurds are quite open about using force if necessary to gain control of the city. It's a red line for them.

So far, the Shia militias have been relatively peaceful..perhaps because they are vastly outnumbered by units of the Kurdish Pesh Merga forces.

But more Shia militiamen are apparently on the way, according to one of Sadr's commanders in the city, Abdul Karim Khalifa.

The Shiites are backed with training, arms and funding from Iran...as I revealed here.

The Kurds have responded by upping the Pesh Merga presence in Kirkuk and Tuz. More Kurdish reinforcements are on the way.

Kirkuk has always been considered a likely flashpoint for an Iraqi civil war..and it looks like Iran may just belooking to provide one, to further distract the Bush Administration from its military buildup.

We may end up having to choose sides fairly quickly.

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