Monday,22 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)
Monday,22 April, 2019
Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Kirkuk – ‘cornerstone of a united Iraq’

As Iraqi government forces entered the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk this week, local residents came out to greet them with celebrations in the streets, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti in Kirkuk


Kirkuk – ‘cornerstone of a united Iraq’
Kirkuk – ‘cornerstone of a united Iraq’

For the first time in many years, those travelling between the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk to Baghdad have been able to pass through the various checkpoints in the so-called disputed areas without concern. There used to be Kurdish assayish (security) checkpoints that sometimes bothered travellers not speaking Kurdish, as such checkpoints still do in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Irbil.

However, today for the first time in years Al-Ahram Weekly was able to reach Kirkuk without seeing the Kurdish flags that used to be everywhere in the region, even in areas known for being majority Turkmen like Tuz Khurmato, Daqoq and Taza, some 70, 35 and 15 km, respectively, south of Kirkuk.

“Kirkuk, 248 km north of Baghdad and an oil-rich city sitting on some 22 per cent of Iraq’s oil wealth, has historically been a Turkmen majority city, even if the Kurds have not been able to achieve their dream of independence from the rest of Iraq without Kirkuk,” commented Jihan Mohamed, a political science PhD student, to the Weekly.

Mohamed added that according to her data, Kirkuk was originally a Turkmen majority city and the first Arabisation campaigns started in 1937, before accelerating under former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 1982. The serious Kurdification of the city began in April 2003.

According to Mohamed, while the Arabisation of the city was documented, with the Arab families settled in Kirkuk transferring their personal documents to the Kirkuk administration, the Kurdification of the city was not, and the city’s later Kurdish administration had gone back to the official registrations to demand that Kirkuk’s Arab residents return to their original cities.

“According to the UN Human Rights Commission in 2000, 25,000 families were ordered out of Kirkuk by the former ruling Baath Party regime. Two-thirds were Turkmen families and the rest were Kurds,” a Turkmen researcher speaking to the Weekly on condition of anonymity said. “Most of the Turkmens did not come back, while more than 800,000 Kurds were settled in the city on public and private land in order to produce an automatic majority in elections.”

“Kirkuk for the Kurdish leaderships means nothing but oil fields,” Hassan Turan, a Turkmen MP from Kirkuk, told the Weekly, adding that the so-called disputed areas, among them Kirkuk, were only 42 per cent Kurdish.

Visiting Kirkuk a day after the withdrawal of the Kurdish Peshmergas fighters from the area, there was much evidence of people in the streets celebrating and raising Iraqi flags, but no sign of any Kurdish banners except those mourning former Iraqi-Kurdish president Jalal Talabani who died recently.

Ahmed Hama, a pseudonym, a Peshmerga officer since 1959 and originally from Kirkuk, told the Weekly that the news reports “said that more than 500,000 Kurdish people fled Kirkuk on 16 October. But I would like them to produce their personal documents to prove that they had documents from 1957.”

The documents of 1957 are those used in the 1957 census, the most scientific and accurate ever taken in Iraq.

One Kurdish political analyst who spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity said that the outgoing president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Masoud Barzani had said in his speech after the Kurdish setback in Kirkuk that what had happened had been because a Kurdish political party had taken a unilateral decision to withdraw, a reference to the Kurdish Workers Party (PUK) wing led by Hero Khan, the widow of Talabani, who decided to negotiate a withdrawal from Kirkuk on the condition of shared administration.

The analyst said he wanted to know why Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) forces had withdrawn from the nearby Nineveh Plain and the Mosul Dam.

Ala Talabani, a Kurdish MP from Kirkuk and a leading figure in the PUK, told the Weekly that she felt sad when some KRG statements labelled the party as “traitors” to Kurdistan. The decision to hold a referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq in September had been taken by Barzani alone, she said, and “we decided to withdraw and to avoid bloodshed as we didn’t want to do so just in order to feed his ambition.”

The Iraqi armed forces entered Kirkuk amidst signs of welcome from the city’s original residents. Rakan Said, the vice-governor of Kirkuk, an Arab, was made governor. A Turkmen will now be made chair of the Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC), and another has become the mayor of Kirkuk.

According to statements by the Iraqi Interior Ministry, there no violence or looting in Kirkuk in the wake of the Iraqi forces’ arrival. The Kirkuk administration has also appealed to families who fled the city to return.

The Turkmen bloc in the KPC has said that all high-ranking Kurdish officials will stay in their posts in order to protect the unity and harmony of Kirkuk. Former governor Najmaldin Karim was fired by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi in September. He was a leading figure in the PUK, but became a tough Barzani supporter on the referendum and has now fled to Irbil.

The situation in Kirkuk today is stable, though there are still some fears. “We have restored our Kirkuk after decades of Arabisation and Kurdification,” said Jenkiz Tuzlu, a Turkmen political analyst, adding that “our Kirkuk was and still is a cornerstone of Iraq unity and sovereignty.”

Mohamed Mahdi Bayatli, a Turkmen and the commander of the Badr Forces northern axis that took part in the campaign, told the Weekly that “the operation in Kirkuk was about upholding the law. We wanted nothing else but to restore the sovereignty of the federal government.” 

Meanwhile, Turkmens were celebrating in the streets, saying that they had entered the battle to maintain Kirkuk’s stability and its permanent character.

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