Kurds Reluctant to Send Troops to Baghdad
Since Tuba Ali's son Sarko left Sulaimaniyah for Baghdad last month to take part in the new security plan for the capital, she rarely misses a television news bulletin, anxious for the latest on the troubled city.
Ali, 48, says she is very upset that her son is getting involved in the campaign to end Baghdad’s sectarian violence. "Kurdish forces should not have been deployed [there] because we don’t have anything to do with the.. city," she said.
A 3,000-strong contingent of Kurdish troops will form part of the Iraqi army deployment in the city, but Kurds in the north are not happy about their involvement. They say restoring stability to Baghdad is not their concern and fear they may be dragged into a sectarian conflict.
So far, Kurds - who comprise about 17 per cent of Iraq's population - have stayed out of the predominantly Sunni-Shia conflict ravaging the capital and much of the country.
The Baghdad military operation, involving tens of thousands of US and Iraqi troops, is the latest attempt to deal a blow to the insurgents and militias that are holding the city to ransom.
Azmar Abdullah, 27, a soldier from Sulaimaniyah, told IWPR just before leaving for the capital that he would go wherever his commanders told him, but had reservations about the Baghdad mission.
"This is a useless war because you don’t know whom you will fight and how they will confront you," he said. "They are invisible enemies."
Kurds believe their soldiers will be up against it in the capital because they’re unaccustomed to fighting in urban environments and are considered American collaborators by the insurgent groups.
Brigadier Anwar Dolani, chief of the Sulaimaniyah units in the army, said he was not optimistic about the security plan, but felt Kurds should take part, nonetheless. "I'm not happy with going to Baghdad, because Ba’athists and terrorists will accuse us of fighting Arabs and will encourage people to hurt us," he said.
The Kurdish commander said his troops have not been told what they will do in Baghdad, as the authorities have kept details of the plan secret to prevent it being sabotaged by insurgents and militia groups.
"We will do our best not become a part of the sectarian war," said Brigadier Dolani, "We are the Iraqi army and we are going to protect all Iraqis: Kurds, Sunni and Shia."
Nonetheless, there remains unease within Kurdish military ranks about the mission, and there have been reports of desertions. Kurdish commanders dismiss these accounts, but IWPR has been able to speak to one deserter.
"I deserted as soon as I heard the rumour [about Kurdish troops being sent to Baghdad] a month ago," he said. "I don’t believe in a war that has no benefit for the Kurds."
He also believes that the Kurds will fare no better than US troops in bringing stability to the capital. "American soldiers failed despite all their resources," he said.
But Rebwar Kareem, professor of political science at the University of Sulaimaniyah, said that Kurds have a duty to serve in Baghdad because “they are part of the country”.
Kareem feels its important for Kurds to show that they are prepared to protect Iraq, warning that not doing so will reflect badly on their community. He says the Arab media will be quick to criticise them if their commitment falters, and insists that those who suggest that Kurdish soldiers not go to Baghdad are divorced from reality.
Ali, though, believes that her son may end up making an unnecessary sacrifice. “I'm afraid my son will die for a place that no Kurd wants to give his life for," she said.
Frman Abdulrahman and Fazil Najeeb are IWPR contributors in Sulaimaniyah.
This article has been produced with support from the International Republican Institute (IRI).