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 Ethnic Division Makes Any Protest Suspicious

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Ethnic Division Makes Any Protest Suspicious  3.3.2011  
By Qassim Khidhir Hamad

March 3, 2011

KIRKUK, Iraq's border with Kurdistan region, — Thousands of Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been deployed to Kirkuk to protect the city’s Kurdish establishments from possible attacks by the Arab population. The Arabs want them to withdraw as soon as possible.

Friday 25th February, according to Iraqi media, was to be a day for huge anti-government protests around the country. That included Kirkuk, where many Kurds planned to join the protest to demand better services.

But two days before, Kurdish politicians from Kirkuk, which is home to ethnic Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs, said that they had uncovered a plot against the Kurds. They ordered the Kurdish people not to take part in the protests.

Dr. Najmadin Karim, a well-known Kurdish politician in Kirkuk and a member of the Iraqi Parliament, told a press conference at Baghdad Parliament that “chauvinists were planning to destabilise Kirkuk during the protests”.         

Kirkuk city is historically a Kurdish city and it lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region, the population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority of Arabs, Christians and Turkmen. Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem." Kurds see it as the rightful and perfect capital of an autonomous Kurdistan state. Photo: Yahya Ahmed/AP
Khalid Shwani, a Kurdish MP from Kirkuk, explained that the Arab Political Council - a tribal council in Kirkuk - would attack the Kurdish intelligence agency, known as Asayish, as well as the main administrative offices and police stations run by Kurdish officers.

The next day, a large number of heavily armed Kurdish Peshmerga forces appeared on the streets of Erbil city, the capital of the Kurdistan Region, heading towards Kirkuk.

These forces are now stationed just outside Kirkuk, to the west, ready to enter the city if Arab tribes rise up against the Kurds.

On Friday, protests only took place in the areas mainly inhabited by Arabs, and none were held in Kurdish areas.

The largest demonstration was in Arab-dominated Hawija, 50 km southwest of Kirkuk. Protesters held photographs of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi flag of the Hussein-era.

About 200 protesters gathered in front of the governorate building, holding banners and shouting that Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution should be repealed.

Article 140 calls for measures to reverse Saddam Hussein’s Arabisation policy before a referendum on the status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories is held.

Clashes began when security forces opened fire to try to prevent demonstrators from approaching the town hall building. One person was killed and 23 people were injured.

It is not clear whether the Arab Political Council had planned to attack the Asayish or not, but so far, the Council has not denied it.

A member of the Kurdish opposition Gorran Movement, who did not want to be named, believes it was a “scenario” created by the ruling Kurdish party “to prevent Kurdish people from protesting against corruption in Kurdistan. They wanted to shift people’s attention towards Kirkuk”.

Hawkar Sabir, 24, a university student in Kirkuk, said the situation there is tense and serious. “If the Peshmerga forces had not been deployed to Kirkuk,
www.ekurd.netthere would now be civil war between Kurds and Arabs.”

The Arab Political Council and Turkmen Front are very angry that Peshmerga forces have been stationed in the west of Kirkuk and want them to withdraw immediately.

“It is unconstitutional for Peshmerga forces to be in Kirkuk. Peshmerga can only operate in areas under the control of the Kurdistan regional government,” said Saddadin Arkij, head of the Turkmen Front based in Kirkuk.

“The presence of Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk will create many problems,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Arab Political Council asked the Arab people to protest last Tuesday, in what they called a “day of wrath” against the Peshmerga. But it then postponed the protest after police imposed a curfew to prevent the protest.

Niqash has learnt that US forces have welcomed the deployment of Peshmerga forces to the outskirts of Kirkuk to help sustatin stability in Kirkuk.

Recently, the United Nations envoy in Iraq, Ad Melkert, said protests in Iraq and across the Arab world show the urgent need to resolve long-standing disputes between Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq.

"As long as these issues remain unresolved, they could be the trigger for conflict and polarisation at any moment," he said.

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