Ancient Rivalries Vie for Dominance of Iraq's Kirkuk
Thursday, February 5, 2004; 8:12 AM
By Luke Baker
KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) - Resting among the fertile land in
the foothills of the Zagros mountains and atop vast oil riches,
the ancient city of Kirkuk is the would-be jewel in the
incomplete crown of Iraq's Kurds.
The problem is, at a time when all of Iraq's ethnic and
religious groups are vying for power and a share of the
country's natural resources following the overthrow of Saddam
Hussein, they are not the only ones who covet it.
And as a July 1 deadline for U.S. authorities to hand
sovereignty back to an Iraqi government draws nearer, the
struggle for influence is growing ever more intense and deadly.
Over the centuries, Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, Christians and
Jews have all to one degree or another held ground in the city,
a bustling place built around a crumbling citadel with dusty
streets crammed with cars, fruit stalls and donkey carts.
While the others may lay claim, however, it is the Kurds
and the Turkmen who can argue with most authority that Kirkuk's
roots are theirs, and who are now struggling for supremacy in a
city their forefathers founded more than 3,000 years ago.
Better organized and wealthier, it is the Kurds -- who
refer to Kirkuk as their Jerusalem and want it as the capital
of a federal Kurdish state -- who hold the upper hand.
"This is where we belong, this is our land," said Hassib
Qadir, 24, whose family was forced from the city by Saddam's
government more than a decade ago and is now trying to return
with his father, brothers, wife and three children.
"I am not an enemy of the Turkmen or the Arabs, but in my
heart I believe that Kirkuk is just for the Kurds."
TURNING BACK HISTORY
Under Saddam, Kurds and Turkish-speaking Turkmen were
driven from Kirkuk and thousands of outlying villages to make
way for Arabs as part of a process called "Arabization" that
sought to alter permanently the region's ethnic make-up.
Crudely put, Saddam hoped to create a situation where only
Arabs had claim to Kirkuk and its estimated 10 billion barrels
of proven oil reserves -- around 40 percent of Iraq's total.
Human rights groups estimate that up to 150,000 Kurds and
Turkmen were expelled from the area between 1991 and 2002, when
the process was at its peak, as Saddam cracked down on his
enemies following an uprising after the first Gulf war.
But "Arabization" actually began in the late 1950s and
'60s, long before Saddam, when Iraq's rulers, recognizing that
Kurds and Turkmen occupied vastly rich turf, decided to expel
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_____News from Turkey_____
Kurds Press for Independence (The Washington Post, Jan 30, 2004)
Bush Assures Turkish Leader on Kurds in Iraq (The Washington Post, Jan 29, 2004)
U.S.-Turkish Ties Coming Full Circle (The Washington Post, Jan 27, 2004)
Turkey Asks U.N.'s Annan To Restart Cyprus Talks (The Washington Post, Jan 25, 2004)
Iraqi Kurdish Leader Demands Guarantees (The Washington Post, Jan 18, 2004)