The Kurds are the true masters of Kirkuk
LE MONDE | 21 January 06 | 14:04 Updated 21 January 206 | 14:12
KIRKUK (Iraq) SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT SOPHIE SHIHAB
Just a year ago, the road from Iraqi Kurdistan to the oil city of Kirkuk, under Baghdad’s jurisdiction but contested by the Kurds, was considered unsafe, just as Kirkuk itself –multiethnic and destined for civil war.
But, this winter, a continuous flood of cars links the city to Kurdistan and there is no sign of war. Although life in the city is like that of any other for which there is contention by different communities: a regime of intimidation, including assassinations, targeting opposing groups. My taxi driver balks at entering the southern quarters of Kirkuk where Arabs displaced Kurds at the orders of Saddam Hussein. After a trip through the mixed quarters at the foot of the citadel, the taxi happily returns to the purely Kurdish part of the city. "As long as the Arabs remain, their terrorists are a menace to us”, says the driver. “I’m not taking about the Arabs who have always lived here…”, continues the driver, without dissimulating the feeling that here, again, the mood is not in favor of reconciliation. First, because there are tens of thousands of Kurds who await their resettlement in the oil-bearing areas along the southern border of autonomous Kurdistan from which they has been displaced by successive Arabization campaigns.
One of them, who hails from a village near Kirkuk, destroyed by the army in 1987, recounts: We fled to our grandmother’s house, in Kirkuk. She hid us, because on Arabs had the right to settle there. The children were forbidden to go outdoors to play, but we were denounced and sent here, to live in a tent. This patriarch of the Dawood family continues to live with his children and grandchildren in the concrete hovel which has replaced the tent within one of the sad camps of Kurdistan filled with people in the same condition. “If tomorrow our leader, Barzani (the President of Kurdistan) gives us the order, we will all take up arms for Kirkuk, assures a son.
This familiy is one of many which, although originating in Kirkuk, was unable to vote in the 15 December 2005 legislative elections because it was not enrolled in the UN food program. “We were afraid, we wanted all the Arabs to leave Kirkuk before returning, but now our change of address is no longer accepted”, says one of Dawood’s daughters.
But it is estimated that 70% of refugees from the Kirkuk region have been able to resettle there, or, at least, become registered. This has restored the former local Kurdish majority. In the December elections, the Kurdish list received more than 300,000 votes from among 560,000 voters, significantly larger than the tally of the various Arab lists and the Turkmen Front, which received some 58,000 votes. The losers accuse the Kurds of irregularities but the size of the gap means that the referendum on Kirkuk to be held sometime before the end of 2007, if it is held at all, will result in the annexation of the city to the federal region of Kurdistan
MASTERS BEHIND THE CURTAIN
President Massoud Barzain made a public promise this winter. The annexation is the first condition imposed by the Kurds, who have been strengthened by their pivotal role in forming the Baghdad government, on any future partner. Many refugees are so convinced of annexation that they have rebuilt their destroyed villages without waiting for the various forms of assistance promised for this purpose. "Since then, he continues, we have been living in Huweija”, an Arab town between Kirkuk and Baghdad. “A year ago, four Kurds were killed there, then three others. So we fled but we were able to sell our lands and rent out our homes. For next to nothing, but it still helps in the rebuilding here without having to depend on the Kurdish-Arab compensation committees, which do not function.” Baghdad has blocked the work of the committees —created under Article 58 of the Constitution— to attempt to prevent the transfer of the city, under the authority of the two big Kurdish parties.
A majority on the elected council, the Kurdish parties are the true masters behind the curtain of the Kurds who are members of the armed forces and local police. The peshmergas, wearing Iraqi military uniforms, are often accused of kidnapping Arabs and Turkmen and placing them in secret prisons in Kurdistan or evening murdering them. The Americans, who have military bases in the region, let them get away with it as part of war on terror, without, apparently, taking a position on the future status of Kirkuk. Perhaps this is in the hope —for which there is no guarantee— of seeing the financial transactions, like that of Tayyeb Zorab, triumph over breakaway by arms and blood?