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 Talabani criticized for designating Kirkuk "Jerusalem of Kurdistan", MP says it's "serious"

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Talabani criticized for designating Kirkuk "Jerusalem of Kurdistan", MP says it's "serious"  10.3.2011  

Iraqi MP says Talabani’s Kirkuk statements “serious”

March 10, 2011

KIRKUK, Iraq's border with Kurdistan region, —  The President of Iraq Jalal Talabani has been criticized for describing oil-rich Kirkuk as the “Jerusalem of Kurdistan” by the province’s Arabs and Turkmen who have demanded explanations from the president for his remark.

Talabani was addressing a rally of supporters of his party – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah on March 7 during the 20th anniversary of a poplar uprising in the city against the former Iraqi regime in 1991 when he likened Kirkuk to Jerusalem. The 1991 uprisings of the people of Kurdistan resulted in the current semi-autonomy of the region.

"We must not forget that there are areas reunited with the (Kurdistan) region such as Kirkuk, the Jerusalem of Kurdistan,” Talabani said in his address, “we need a common struggle”.        

Jalal Talabani, Iraqi president addressing a rally of supporters of his party – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan region of Iraq. on March 7, 2011. Photo credit: Serok Komar
The oil-rich province of Kirkuk is one of the most disputed areas by the Kurdistan regional government and the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

A lawmaker from al-Iraqiya bloc, Wihda al-Djemeili, termed as “serious” on Wednesday Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s statements on Kirkuk, adding the remarks might possibly be an attempt to cool down the masses’ anger in the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

Perhaps President Talabani’s statements were an attempt to ease the anger of the people in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, which has been witnessing mass demonstrations,”  al-Djemeili told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

Djemeili noted that Talabani does not represent a certain group or party but he is the president of the republic of Iraq.

“The Kurds’ inclination to get Kirkuk and annex it to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region is immense.
They can do that because they have a strategic vision,” she said.

“What we heard from Talabani about Kirkuk being the heart or Jerusalem of Kurdistan should be reconsidered,” said an Arab member of the Kirkuk provincial council, Mohammed Khalil al-Jubouri “ president of the country; he should be impartial.”

“It is better for him to say Kirkuk is an Iraqi province for all Iraqis”.

But, Parizad Sha’ban, a member of the Kurdistan Alliance list in the Iraqi parliament said Talabani spoke to the crowd as the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

“Talabani did not speak as the president of Iraq” said Sha’ban, “yet the Arab media criticize him and describe his comments as unconstitutional.”

The Kurds are seeking to integrate the province into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region clamming it to be historically a Kurdish city, 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, lies 250 km northeast of Baghdad.
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.

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city and other disputed areas through having back its Kurdish inhabitants and repatriating the Arabs relocated in the city during the former regime’s time to their original provinces in central and southern Iraq.

The article also calls for conducting a census to be followed by a referendum to let the inhabitants decide whether they would like Kirkuk to be annexed to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region or having it as an independent province.

The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to "Arabize" the city and the region's oil industry.

The last ethnic-breakdown census in Iraq was conducted in 1957, well before Saddam began his program to move Arabs to Kirkuk. That count showed 178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turkomen, 43,000 Arabs and 10,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christians living in the city. 

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