Strong Leaders Keep Northern Iraq Calm
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 21, 2006 The relative calm that has been seen in Iraq's northern provinces can be attributed to aggressive coalition and Iraqi leaders who understand the area and know how to diffuse problems before they happen, a U.S. commander in the area said today.
"The presence of coalition forces, along with an increasingly competent and confident Iraqi army brigade and Iraqi police force inside Kirkuk, are keeping a lid on potential violence," Army Col. David R. Gray, commander of 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, said in a satellite news conference from Iraq.
Kirkuk province is an ethnically diverse area that has nationally significant natural resources and infrastructure, Gray said. Roughly 40 percent of Iraq's oil and 70 percent of its natural gas come from Kirkuk, he said, and there is tension among ethnic groups about control of the region. That tension is intensified by the return of Kurds who were displaced during Saddam Hussein's regime, he said.
The ethnic tensions occasionally manifest themselves in acts of intimidation, coercion of government leaders, and assassinations and kidnappings, Gray said, but coalition and Iraqi forces in the area have been successful in deterring most of the violence.
"I would credit the relative calm that most believe is in our area to aggressive commanders and soldiers on the ground -- both Iraqi and American -- who keep their finger on the pulse in the region and have developed a keen sense for the potential flashpoints," he said.
Political stability is a great concern for the Iraqi leaders and security forces in Kirkuk, Gray said. Having a national unity government seated will resolve many issues that will help the provincial and local governments work, he said.
Iraqi forces in northern Iraq have made great strides in capability and confidence, Gray said. In two provinces, Iraqi forces have assumed control of security, and in Kirkuk, an Iraqi army brigade will assume responsibility for the area outside Kirkuk City at the end of this month and will conduct independent operations, he said.