The American military kept tensions between the two sides in check over much of the past decade. But the last American troops left on Dec. 18, 2011 — except for a small number of personnel attached to the U.S. Embassy that are responsible for facilitating Iraqi arms purchases and training Iraqis to use the weapons.
‘‘After 2011, Iraqi politics are operating under their own logic again,’’ said Toby Dodge, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank in London. ‘‘Al-Maliki’s consolidating and expanding (power). The Kurds are the last autonomous force that stands in his way.’’
American military commanders were aware of the risks of Arab-Kurd friction, which they described as one of the biggest threats to Iraq’s security in the years before the U.S. pullout. Concerns about ethnic violence prompted the U.S. to create checkpoints jointly run by American, Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the disputed areas, effectively forcing the two sides to work together.
In recent weeks, American officials have pressed the Iraqi government and the Kurds to stop their troop movements and provocative statements while working toward some type of agreement.
Troops from both sides faced off near the Syrian border over the summer too, but American observers viewed the latest standoff as more worrying.
‘‘There’s an intensity here that wasn’t present back in July on the Syrian border,’’ said a U.S. Embassy official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter so insisted on anonymity. ‘‘It’s an on-the-ground form of negotiation that’s really risky.’’
Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed reporting.
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