HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH REPORT - AUGUST 2004
Claims in Conflict: Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Northern Iraq
Case Study: Al-Bashir village (*)
U.S. forces in Kirkuk also conducted a mediation involving the formerly Turkoman agricultural area of al-Bashir, located south of the city of Kirkuk. According to one of the Turkoman leaders, Imam Qanbar Mahmud Ridha al-Musawi, al-Bashir was a thriving Turkoman area of some 700 families, who owned some 48,000 dunums of farmlands. Al-Bashir was home to seven mosques, five schools, and a large hospital. The outlawed Islamic Da’wa Party was active in the area, according to the imam, and in the early 1980s, Iraqi security forces began arresting young men from the village, many of who were later executed. In 1986, the entire community was expelled and moved to communal compounds:
In 1986, security officials started to arrive to the village, informing us that we should prepare to leave the district. Days after this, they came and brought us a bunch of keys with numbered medals attached. They said there were compounds on the road to Tikrit and that we had to move to these compounds. There were six compounds: al-Qadisiyya, Dhi Qar, Shahid, Nahrawan, Yarmuk, and Saddam.
Most of the Turkoman families of al-Bashir were never compensated, although a small minority received some money for their lost houses. About one year after their initial displacement, almost all of the Turkoman families were dispersed to cities throughout Iraq, including Kut, Basra, Arbil, and Diyala, without being provided with housing.
After the displacement of the Turkomans, the Iraqi government embarked on a major irrigation project in the al-Bashir area, greatly increasing the productivity of the land. In the mid-1990s, the government began resettling Arab tribesmen in the area, offering them twenty-five dunums of irrigated farmland on annual leases. More than 200 Arab families moved to the area, including some who had lost their original lands when they were developed as oil fields in the ‘Umar Ibn Khattab area.
During the 2003 war, the Arabs did not flee the al-Bashir area. According to the imam of the village, this was due to the fact that Kurdish Peshmerga did not take control of the area: “When the coalition forces approached Kirkuk with the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Arabs fled spontaneously, and those who remained were attacked. Our area was different, because the coalition forces didn’t take control of our district, so the Arabs just stayed in our places.” Tensions quickly grew as Turkomans started returning to the area and demanding their lands.
The Turkomans began to threaten the Arabs, who insisted that they would only leave after a decision on the property dispute was made by a new Iraqi government, arguing that they came to the village lawfully, and would only leave under the law. According to Col. George, who initiated the mediation, the situation came to a head one day when the Turkomans came to inform him that all of the displaced Turkomans from al-Bashir intended to march on the village, and that they would kill every Arab who remained. In order to avoid violence, the U.S. troops in Kirkuk initiated a mediation of the dispute in early September 2003.
The mediation was not voluntary, according to the Arab leaders, who told Human Rights Watch that Col. George had given them a choice: either negotiate or “they would bring a judge who would cancel all of our agricultural contracts within one hour and we would be kicked out within a week,” a threat Col. George confirmed to Human Rights Watch that he made.159
The mediation in al-Bashir was led and controlled by U.S. authorities, and did not involve a panel of Iraqis, although Iraqi officials from the agricultural department of Kirkuk were involved in an advisory role with the U.S. mediators.
Unlike the Dogurtkan mediation, where an Iraqi panel actually settled property disputes, the al-Bashir mediation was an explicit short-term agreement, leaving the long-term issues of property-ownership unresolved. Among other things, the agreement provided for the allocation of thirteen dunums of land for the winter agricultural season, on a non-renewable basis, to each landless Arab family living in al-Bashir, and that Arab farmers be granted the winter harvest.
Decisions on land allocation would be made by a committee composed of representatives of the local agricultural directorate and coalition forces. Complaints relating to compensation claims must be submitted within sixty days of the signing of the agreement to a commission set up for this purpose, composed of representatives of Taza district agricultural department, Kirkuk directorate and coalition forces. Arab families originally from outlying areas and who did not own a place of residence in the village would be required to leave the village within a year of the signing of the agreement. Returning Turkoman families would not be allowed to enter the village, except by invitation, during the period in which Arabs remain on disputed land.
(*) The original name, before Arabisation was "BESHIR".
Note: The American supported armed Kurdish peshmerga chased all the Arabs from their villages and recuperated their properties in 2003, while the Turkmens, who have no armed militias, are still waiting to be compensated and recuperate their confiscated properties and lands!
More on this subject in another post...