Aug 01, 2012

Iraqi Turkmen: Turmoil Continues in Kirkuk

Despite the progress that has been made in Iraq’s north, the disputed city of Kirkuk remains on the frontlines as violence continues to threaten the fragile accommodation between ethnic groups. 

Below is an article published by Rudaw News:

Xalil Mahmoud, 72, was sitting on a chair outside his home in the Domis district of central Kirkuk, describing the state of his city, when the sound of a thunderous explosion suddenly interrupted him.

Mahmoud is a typical elderly man from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, one of the most dangerous and disputed areas of Iraq. Calm yet persistent, he held a cigarette between his fingers and waved his hands in the air as he continued to passionately tell his story after hearing the blast.

“It is routine. Kirkuk is the city of life and death. I can tell the explosion is not nearby. Can you hear the sirens? It is far away, trust me,” he said.

Mahmoud added, “We hear these kinds of noises almost every day. Perhaps it is a terrorist blowing himself up. Yesterday, we heard one that was even louder at midnight.”

The explosion turned out to be part of a string of roadside bombings that struck the city in the early hours of July 8 [2012], targeting police cars. It resulted in the death of a policeman and nine others were injured, including civilians.

According to Kirkuk police, they were roadside bombs detonated by mobile phone devices.

Kirkuk is unique to the rest of Iraq because it is an ethnically integrated city. However, because it is also the center of Iraq’s petroleum industry, the three major ethnic groups -- Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen -- claim the region as their own.

The city has witnessed consecutive occupations and violence throughout its history but, despite the efforts to systematically Arabize the city by former Iraqi regimes, Kurds have always made up the bulk of the city’s population.

Under the former Baathist regime’s codes of conduct for citizens of Kirkuk, Kurds were systematically displaced. After the 1991 uprising of the Kurds, which led to the liberation of several Kurdish cities, the displacement intensified.

Back then, under the policy of “identity correction,” Kurds of Kirkuk who refused to “correct” their identity to “an Arab from Kirkuk” were displaced to the liberated Kurdish areas of Erbil, Sulaimani and Duhok. The Baathist state then assumed their property, money and ration cards.

Unlike the cities currently booming under the sovereignty of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Kirkuk has not seen much development. Its infrastructure is a far cry from the new innovations and stylish reconstruction that began to take shape across Kurdistan when the region entered a phase of post-war recovery.

Mahmoud wore Arab dress but described himself as Kurdish in his “heart of hearts.”

He said the city is now worse for everybody because, he thinks, “it is divided along ethnic lines like never before.”

He claimed his was one of the very few Kurdish families still living in the Domis district, an area well-known for its predominantly Arab population.

Outside Mahmoud’s house, he greeted passersby in Kurdish, Arabic and Turkmeni.

“I am Kurdish, not an Arab or a Turkmen, but we have lived here together for so long we got to know the languages. My neighbors are mainly Arabs, but remember Kirkuk belongs to Kurdistan, not Iraq,” he said.

“There aren’t many Kurds living here anymore. They left for the Kurdish areas but some of us refuse to move, even if they detonate a bomb right inside our home,” Mahmoud said. “I am sure it is the same for Arabs and Turkmen who refuse to leave Kurdish neighborhoods for the same reason.”

Following the 2003 occupation of Iraq, a status referendum was introduced for the “disputed” regions of Diyala, Kirkuk, Salahaddin and Nineveh so that people could decide to either become part of the autonomous Kurdistan Region or remain under the control of Iraq’s central government.

The referendum was supposed to take place in 2007, as specified in Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution which emphasized reversing the Arabization that took place in Kurdish regions at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Although many displaced Kurds have since returned to Kirkuk, the constitutional referendum has yet to be held, five years later.

In contrast to the Domis district, the Rahimawa neighborhood is known for its predominantly Kurdish population. It is located in northeast Kirkuk, with only a handful of Arab families left living in the area.

Fazl Mansour, a 32-year-old resident of the neighborhood, said, “Rahimawa has always been known as the Kurdish Quarter, even when Saddam Hussein was ruling against the Kurds with an iron fist. But I am an Arab and I was born here, too.”

He added that, though his friends find it strange that he is from Rahimawa, he is proud to live there as an Arab. However, although Baathists have disappeared from Kirkuk, Mansour makes it clear that the regime’s culture of terror still lives in the city.

“When the Baath Party was in power, everybody in Kirkuk lived in fear because you didn’t know what was going to happen to you next. I don’t think much has changed in terms of that, as you leave your house on your own will but are never sure whether you will return safely because of the violence and terror haunting us day and night,” he said.