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In Iraq, Kurdish militia has the run of oil-rich Kirkuk
KIRKUK, Iraq - Lt. Hiwa Raouf Abdul is not supposed to be in Kirkuk. The oil-rich city, which many fear is teetering on the brink of civil war, is off-limits to Kurdish Peshmerga militia members.
And yet, on Tuesday, the slender, 26-year-old Peshmerga officer breezed through one checkpoint after the next on his way into Kirkuk, exchanging waves and salutes with Iraqi army soldiers and policemen as he rode with a truckload of Peshmerga gunmen.
Abdul is stationed in the nearby Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, where the Peshmerga enforce strict security through a series of checkpoints, and his visit to Kirkuk came only because his commanders asked him to escort a reporter there.
But the ease with which a pickup truck carrying seven Peshmerga members, most of them wielding AK-47s, passed into Kirkuk says volumes about the challenge of pacifying flashpoint towns like Kirkuk and, ultimately, Iraq.
When he passed by the Iraqi army checkpoint on the edge of Kirkuk, Abdul looked at the soldiers saluting him and said, "They get their orders from the Iraqi army, but their loyalty is to the Kurds, to us."
As with Shiite militias in Baghdad, the line between militia members and Iraqi security troops in Kirkuk is so thin that it at times doesn't exist. And U.S. plans to build Iraq's security forces - a process that has cost more than $15 billion nationwide - seem to have strengthened militias instead of discouraging them.