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Iraq's Kurdish Regional Leader Wants U.S. Forces To Stay

Masud Barzani, the president of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government
Masud Barzani, the president of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government
IRBIL, Iraq -- The president of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government says U.S. forces will still be needed in Iraq in 2012 and that their absence could lead to a civil war or sectarian conflicts, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Masud Barzani also called on the Iraqi government to sign an agreement with U.S. forces to stay in the country after their withdrawal deadline of December 31 and until the Iraqi military is able to assume full responsibility in protecting the country's borders and air space.

"We think that we still need the presence of the U.S. forces in Iraq," he said during a conference in Irbil on September 6 of foreign representatives from Iraq's regional Kurdish government. "All the [Iraqi] political powers say that during their [private] meetings, but when they stand in front of the microphones [in public] they speak another language."

Barzani warned that a complete U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq could open the door to a number of problems. "If the Americans leave I think we may witness a civil war. External powers may interfere in Iraq and sectarian problems could worsen."

Barzani called on the Iraqi government in Baghdad to sign a new agreement with the United States on a continuing role for U.S. forces, one that respects Iraqi sovereignty.

In his speech, Barzani touched upon the problems between Baghdad and Irbil, saying that a Kurdish regional government delegation headed by Prime Minister Barham Salih is due in Baghdad soon to discuss several issues.

Barzani also criticized the Iraqi government, saying it has a tendency to govern without consulting Kurdish government officials.

He said the Kurdish rebel groups Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) and Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) should take into consideration the interests of the region and abstain from all military action in pressing for their demands for greater autonomy.

Barzani added that the two Kurdish groups -- regarded as terrorist organizations by most governments -- do not listen to Iraqi Kurdish officials. "When we ask the PJAK and PKK to look at the situation in the region and take it into consideration, they unfortunately do not care what we say," he said.

"We are in a difficult situation. We have [Iran and Turkey] who are asking us to control our borders," Barzani said. "But at the same time, we cannot send an [Iraqi] Kurdish army to the borders because this may lead to a Kurd versus Kurd war."

He added that the Kurdish regional government is trying its best to prevent war and "if there will be one, we will not be a part of it."