Zal sez we’re in Iraq for the long haul.
The U.S. ambassador in Iraq on Monday urged war-weary Americans to dig in for the long haul: a yearslong effort to transform Iraq and the surrounding region, now one of the world’s major trouble spots.
“We must, perhaps reluctantly, accept that we have to help this region become a normal region, the way we helped Europe and Asia in another era,” Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said in an interview. “Now it’s this area from Pakistan to Morocco that we should focus on.”
Khalilzad, an Afghan immigrant to the U.S. who has for years advocated an aggressive effort to bring democracy to the Muslim world, predicted the long-term American effort to “shape the future of this region” will continue regardless of which party controls the White House, how many troops remain in Iraq and what tactics and strategies are employed.
While the Shiites and Kurds gird for war in the north.
KIRKUK, Iraq – Hundreds of Shiite Muslim militiamen have deployed in recent weeks to this restive city — widely considered the most likely flash point for an Iraqi civil war — vowing to fight any attempt to shift control over Kirkuk to the Kurdish-governed north, according to U.S. commanders and diplomats, local police and politicians.
Until recently, the presence of the militias here was minimal. U.S. officials have called the Shiite armed groups the deadliest threat to security in much of the country.
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Although still in its early stages, the militia buildup “is something that definitely concerns us, and something that we are watching very carefully,” said Col. David R. Gray, 48, of Herscher, Ill., commander of the 101st Airborne’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, based in Kirkuk. “So far they haven’t been that violent, but does it add to the tension, putting them into this maelstrom? Absolutely.”
The fate of oil-rich Kirkuk — Iraq’s third-largest city with about a million residents and sizable ethnic Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen communities — has been a pivotal and divisive issue since long before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Kurdish leaders speak openly of their intention to use force if necessary to gain control of the city, which they consider the historical capital of a vast Kurdish nation also extending into Iran and Turkey.
Many Iraqi Arabs, both Sunni and Shiite, are adamantly opposed to relinquishing Kirkuk, among them [Moqtada al-] Sadr and his political followers.
In a meeting here last week, Sadr’s representative in the city, Abdul Karim Khalifa, told U.S. officials that more armed loyalists were on the way and that as many as 7,000 to 10,000 Shiite residents were prepared to fight alongside the Mahdi Army if called upon. Legions more Shiite militiamen would push north from Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, he said, according to Wise.
“His message was essentially that any idea of Kirkuk going to the Kurds will mean a fight,” Wise said. “He said that their policy here was different from in other places, that they are not going to attack coalition forces because their only enemy here is the Kurds.”