Odierno Seeks To Move Troops To Northern Iraq More than six weeks after U.S. soldiers withdrew from Iraqi cities, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American commander, wants to put U.S. troops in disputed parts of northern Iraq. Political tension between Iraq's Arabs and ethnic Kurds has resulted in a security gap in the north that militants have exploited.
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Odierno Seeks To Move Troops To Northern Iraq

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Odierno Seeks To Move Troops To Northern Iraq

Odierno Seeks To Move Troops To Northern Iraq

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. When we hear about problems in Iraq, we often hear about violence and political tensions in the northern part of the country; tensions between Arabs and Kurds. Those rifts have created a security gap, which al-Qaida and other militants have exploited. More than 150 people have been killed in attacks in the north over the past few weeks.

Now, as NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Baghdad, the top American commander wants to redeploy some U.S. soldiers in Northern Iraq.

DEBORAH AMOS: General Ray Odierno outlined his security proposals to Iraq's prime minister and the president of the Kurdish Regional Government over the past few days. Both were receptive, he said. High-profile bombings in villages in Northern Iraq have focused their attention.

General RAY ODIERNO (Commander, Multi-National Force, Iraq): I would say that's encouraged everybody of the fact that we need to start looking at this, yes.

AMOS: When U.S. troops completed their move out of Iraqi cities on June 30th, Iraqis celebrated as their own troops took over security. But in the north, the transition didn't go smoothly. A dispute between Iraq's Kurds and Arabs over territory and oil has been so tense that the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish militias have come close to open conflict. Often they refused to work together. The result, some villages are unprotected, with only local police to stop the bombers. And General Odierno said al-Qaida in Iraq has exploited that gap.

General ODIERNO: Unfortunately, they're killing a lot of innocent civilians, and so that is not acceptable to the Iraqi government and that's not acceptable to the Multi-National Force Iraq. So we are trying to come up with solutions together to solve this problem.

AMOS: Odierno acknowledged that his plan — joint three-way military operations with the Iraqi Army and the Kurd's Peshmerga militia — is a departure from the security agreement that sets a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. This won't be long, he said, and will not delay the withdrawal calendar.

General Odierno and other American commanders say the Arab-Kurd dispute is the most dangerous and unresolved issue in the country. This is why he's proposed putting Americans together with the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish units.

General ODIERNO: I think they just all feel more comfortable if we're there initially, just as a confidence-building.

AMOS: But the violence hasn't been limited to the north.

(Soundbite of sweeping debris)

AMOS: In the capital, Baghdad, confidence is what these Iraqis were looking for. They were cleaning up today after a bomb hidden in a soda can exploded during the dinner rush hour last night. This was the second explosion of the evening. People ran into this falafel restaurant for safety from the first bomb when the second one went off.

Mohammad Huzam, who pulled people out of the rubble last night, puts the blame on Iraq's political parties for some of the violence.

Mr. MOHAMMAD HUZAM: (Through Translator) Elections played the biggest role in these explosions. I'm telling you that things are going to get worse. Everyone is out for their own interests. They don't care about the people.

AMOS: In Baghdad, Iraqis say al-Qaida militants are to blame for the high-profile attacks. But they add the daily small-time violence is the result of political parties jockeying for power ahead of the January vote.

Government spokesman Tahseen al-Sheikhli said he was grilled on this point in the recent call-in show.

Mr. TAHSEEN AL-SHEIKHLI (Spokesman, Iraqi Government): Who is the behind the violence in Iraq? Most of them say that the political parties.

AMOS: Al-Sheikhli dismissed those charges.

Mr. AL-SHEIKHLI: Because it will be reflected on them also. It's obviously not true.

AMOS: But it shows that Iraqis know the most pressing issues in the country need political solutions, not military ones.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Baghdad.

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