During a televised speech today, Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani publicly requested Baghdad retain U.S. troops beyond a Dec. 31 deadline to withdraw. He warned that the country could relapse into sectarian violence or even a civil war, but another consideration could be behind the request.
A 2008 agreement between Iraq and the United States calls on the U.S. troops to leave Iraq at the end of the year, but all or some of the almost 50,000 troops remaining could stay at Iraqi request. Barzani further noted that Iraqi forces are in no position to defend the borders themselves, and recent events involving Turkey, Iran and Kuwait give weight to that observation.
Separately, Barzani spoke at a conference for Kurdish representatives and accusedPrime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of wanting to concentrate power in Baghdad. This may point to another yet another issue U.S. troops could resolve for Barzani: that the Kurdish Autonomous Region would like to annex traditionally Kurdish areas of neighboring provinces into Iraqi Kurdistan — including the extensive oil fields near the city of Kirkuk. The central government has been slow to address Kurdish rule over the area, possibly because it would not like to lose control of those fields.