Ethnic Division Makes Any Protest
By Qassim Khidhir Hamad
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
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
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
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
The largest demonstration was in Arab-dominated
Hawija, 50 km southwest of Kirkuk. Protesters held
photographs of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi flag of
About 200 protesters gathered in front of the
governorate building, holding banners and shouting
that Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution should be
Article 140 calls for measures to reverse Saddam
Hussein’s Arabisation policy before a referendum on
the status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories
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
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
“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
“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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