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MOSUL….For years, Iraq observers have been warning about the ongoing tensions in Kirkuk between Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds. That tension is now in danger of exploding into outright war, but it turns out the initial flashpoint isn’t Kirkuk after all. It’s Mosul:

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is squeezing out Kurdish units of the Iraqi Army from Mosul, sending the national police and army from Baghdad and trying to forge alliances with Sunni Arab hard-liners in the province, who have deep-seated feuds with the Kurdistan Regional Government led by Massoud Barzani.

….”It’s the perfect storm against the old festering background,” warned Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, who oversees Nineveh and Kirkuk Provinces and the Kurdish region. Worry is so high that the American military has already settled on a policy that may set a precedent, as the United States slowly withdraws to allow Iraqis to settle their own problems. If the Kurds and Iraqi government forces fight, the American military will “step aside,” General Thomas said, rather than “have United States servicemen get killed trying to play peacemaker.”

I don’t blame Thomas for taking this attitude. At the same time, if American troops aren’t there to keep the peace, what are they there for?

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