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Sunday27/11/2011November, 2011, 12:18 AM Doha AFP/Kirkuk
Iraq’s disputed oil-rich Kirkuk province may turn into fertile ground for militant groups including Al Qaeda after the US withdrawal, officials from the province warn.
Ethnically divided Kirkuk lies at the centre of a tract of territory which Kurdish leaders want to incorporate in their autonomous region in the north despite the opposition of many of the province’s Arab and Turkmen residents, and of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
“The US withdrawal and lack of readiness of the Iraqi security forces will be used by forces opposed to the political process, and in particular Al Qaeda,” Kirkuk provincial council member Sherzad Adel said.
Al Qaeda “want to have a foothold in Kirkuk,” he said, noting that “the conflict between the centre (Baghdad) and the region (Kurdistan), and the failure to resolve problems in Kirkuk are two factors that form fertile ground for terrorism.”
US forces have played the role of mediators in Kirkuk, and were involved in setting up the “Golden Lions” unit made up of Arab and Kurdish forces.
But all US soldiers except for a small contingent under US embassy authority are to depart Iraq by the end of 2011 leaving a dangerous security vacuum, officials say.
“We have indications that Al Qaeda is reorganising and coordinating with the other remaining armed groups to launch operations,” said Major General Turhan Abdul Rahman, the deputy director general of the Kirkuk police and commander of its anti-terrorism force.
There are signs that operations are in preparation including kidnappings and bomb attacks, Abdul Rahman said.
He expects Al Qaeda and other militant groups to focus their activities on Kirkuk and other north Iraq cities “because they are trying to stir up nationalist strife.”