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Does the Status of Forces Agreement Spell Doom for Kurds?

Is the SOFA takes effect, Kurds could find themselves not only on the opposite side of the trench against the Iraqi army, but U.S. troops as well.

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The security deal, officially termed the agreement of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, also contains several references to the U.S. and Iraqi troops jointly combating "outlawed" armed groups. Such phrases have raised alarms among Kurds as to how they might be interpreted in the future.

While tensions between Shia and Sunni sects have considerably eased over the past year, those between Kurds and Baghdad have dramatically increased. There are several thorny unsettled issues between Baghdad and Kurds such as territory and oil disputes that at any time might erupt in violence.

Last August, Kurdish armed forces known as Peshmarga and the Iraqi army were on the brink of a conflict in areas north of volatile Diyala province. During those tensions, Sami al-Askari, a close aide to Maliki, termed Kurdish Peshmargas present in Diyala "outlawed militias".

Tensions were defused then through U.S. mediation. But if the SOFA takes effect, Kurds will find themselves not only on the opposite side of the trench against the Iraqi army, but the U.S. troops as well. That means Kurds will risk antagonizing their major ally in the country.

The agreement requires the U.S. to help bring Iraq out of "Chapter Seven" status at the United Nations, which recognized Iraq as a threat to international peace and security in 1991 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. That will allow Iraq to more easily procure advanced weaponry for its army, something over which Kurdish officials have publicly expressed concern.

Last September, Kurdish parliamentary speaker Adnan Mufti asked the Iraqi government to give guarantees that it will not use such weapons against Kurds. Today, the major military challenge to the country's army is no longer Mahdi army or al Qaeda, but Kurds.

Amid increasing fears among Kurds about the stakes of this agreement, some have called for an alternative by reviving a United Nations' resolution that committed the international community to protecting Kurds in Iraq. However, the mainstream Kurdish leadership has not agreed to that.

The U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 688 in 1991 when theIraqi army targeted Kurdish civilians during their uprising against Saddam Hussein. The resolution provided international protection for Kurds by setting up a safe haven in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Experts say it is still legally effective.

Saadi Barzinji, a senior Kurdish lawmaker in Baghdad, believes Kurds can try to resort to Resolution 688 of the United Nations, but not as long as the security deal has any chances of passing.

"If the situation in Iraq got disrupted, then Kurds can ask the same forces who protected them before under Resolution 688 to do the same," Barzinji told IPS in a phone interview from Baghdad. "This means we might even have to ask for the establishment of a U.S. military base in Kurdistan."

But with the U.S. rushing to pull out of Iraq, Kurdish hopes of convincing Washington to establish a military base on their soil appears to be far-fetched.