Tension between Arabs and Kurds, rather than the usual friction between Sunnis and Shia, has become the greatest threat to Iraqi security, says the top US general in the country. The oil-rich Kurdish region has become "the No. 1 driver of instability," Ray Odierno told reporters yesterday, and "many insurgent groups are trying to exploit the tensions." The Kurds are battling Baghdad over who has control of oil reserves, and support for an independent Kurdistan is rising.
Robert Gates, the defense secretary, is visiting the Kurdish region today after a weekend election that saw reformist candidates triumph over establishment parties that voters viewed as corrupt. US officials are anxious that disputes over oil could boil over into a new front in the Iraq war, just as Sunni-Shia tensions have calmed down. "We're watching very carefully to see that this doesn't escalate," Odierno said.