But it’s Iran, with more than 900 miles of border and a bitter and complicated history with Iraq, that is most worrisome.
“It is a serious concern that this country will try to expand, encroach, unless you have a viable security force to fill that vacuum,” says a senior Iraqi Foreign Ministry official. “We have to fill it, not them.”
Iraq’s eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s was sparked partly by border issues. US and Iraqi officials say the country, which was home to many of Iraq’s Shiite leaders in exile during Hussein’s regime, meddles in Iraq in a variety of ways, most of them covert.
“There is concern about Iraqi sovereignty,” says General Barbero. “When you have a neighbor that’s trying to exert its influence from here, the way Iran is, it resonates.”
Hundreds of members of the pesh merga Regional Guard deployed along the border are rotating through the training center in Kirkuk to give them the same skills as Iraqi government forces.
In the searing heat on a recent August day, soldiers from a unit near Suleimaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan sat on bleachers watching an Iraqi Army instructor demonstrate the proper method for dismantling rifles – his commands translated from Arabic to Kurdish.