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Local police, according to the report, “still had low competence, showed little initiative, faced massive problems with corruption, and only about half of their assigned personnel had any real training.”

On top of all this, there are the problems of the Kurdish Peshmerga militia that fought Saddam’s dictatorship, and the Sahwa, an alliance of Sunnis who switched sides in 2006 to join the Americans in fighting the insurgency.

Peshmerga guard Whalid Mohammed Nouri stands silently at a traffic checkpoint east of Khanikin, in Diyala province, unable to talk to the Iraqi army soldier next to him. Mr. Nouri speaks Kurdish and the soldier Arabic, so they communicate almost entirely in gestures.

The Peshmerga, which translates roughly as “those who face death” and were named as guerrillas fighting Saddam’s dictatorship, are the security force of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, an estimated 127,200-strong and the only army on the borders with Turkey and Iran. They also fiercely guard a boundary along oil-rich parts of Iraq’s north that has been disputed for decades.

Fearing tensions between Kurds and Arabs could boil over into deadly violence, the U.S. this year designed checkpoints run by American, Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the disputed areas, united against a common enemy — insurgents.

But there’s no guarantee the checkpoints will remain once the remainder of U.S. forces leave in 2011, and there’s no end in sight to the disputes between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurds. The fear of Kurdish-Arab civil war so worries Gen. Odierno that he has floated the possibility of a U.N. peacekeeping force moving in.

The Peshmerga are resentful about the better pay and equipment of the Iraqi army, and “shoving matches” are not uncommon, says Army Lt. Col. Joseph Davidson.

“The pay for the Iraqi army and police is good, and they get uniforms and weapons,” said Peshmerga Lt. Azeezkhan Mohammed Tagedyn, commander at a village checkpoint. “But — we have to use our own money. I bought this AK-47, this vest, this uniform.”

Only recently has Baghdad signed an agreement with the Kurdistan regional government to give the Peshmerga training comparable to the Iraqi army‘s. But the militiamen “still have a long way to go,” said Col. Davidson. “They’ve just started getting equipment and have had no formalized training.”