mardi 29 mai 2007

My comments to the Daily Star on an article by Safa Hussein


Dear Sir,

In his commentary about Kerkuk and its population the author undermines the importance of the Turkmens and their legitimate claims to the city of Kerkuk.

He writes that “the long-oppressed Kurds are thirsting for justice and power in post-Saddam Iraq” omitting to mention that the Turkmens were the most discriminated and oppressed community in the north of Iraq since the beginning of the Iraqi State in 1921 and especially for the past three decades under the Ba’ath regime.

Contrary to the Turkmens, the Kurds obtained an autonomous region in the north of Iraq under the Baath regime in 1970. Indeed, the Baath regime in order to put an end to the Kurdish rebellion in the north-east of Iraq sacrificed Erbil, a Turkmen city with its 250.000 Turkmen inhabitants, by offering it to the Kurdish rebellion leader Mustafa Barzani to become the capital of his autonomous region, in total denigration of the rights of the city’s Turkmen inhabitants!

It is important to remember that up to the middle of the 20th century the Turkmens constituted the majority in Erbil. The Kurds began to move into Erbil at the beginning of the 20th century and became the majority in the 1970s and the same applies to the other big Turkmen city Kerkuk.

Contrary to the Kurds and Arabs, the Turkmens do not have any armed militia and they never terrorized or harmed any of their Iraqi compatriots. Despite all their sufferings and killings at the hands of the Iraqi regimes and the Kurdish militia the Turkmens never sought revenge. Throughout their long history in Iraq the Turkmens always remained true Iraqi patriots.

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the Kurdish parties who collaborated with the occupying armies have brought and installed not “nearly 100.000 Kurds” as mentioned in the article which was probably written some time ago, but over 600,000 Kurds in Kerkuk, in order to change the demography of the city in anticipation of the Referendum which the Kurds want to take place before the end of 2007.

Moreover, contrary to what Safa Hussein writes the great majority of these Kurds are not “returning” to Kerkuk, as most of them have never lived, worked or owned properties in Kerkuk.

It is a well known fact that after April 2003 the two Kurdish parties KDP and PUK organized the transport of Kurds from the Kurdish autonomous region and even from neighbouring countries such as Syria, Turkey and Iran and brought them to Kerkuk in order to Kurdify the city.

The US authorities have allowed the Kurdish militia to install their hegemony over the entire north of Iraq and especially in the Turkmen region, TURKMENELI, where they are imposing their authority by force on the Turkmen towns and cities.

As for property rights, it is clear that the Kurds will not hesitate to provide forged documents in an attempt to prove the legitimacy of their claims to Kerkuk, after all, it is THEY who looted and burned the city’s Land Registry and Population Registry Offices the very first day the Americans allowed them to enter and occupy Kerkuk on 10th April 2003.

The Americans put the Kurds in the most important positions in Kerkuk and even the Property Claims Commission’s Kerkuk Office was staffed mainly by Kurds. As a consequence, this Commission is refusing to return hundreds of thousands hectares of lands to the Turkmen owners, while tens of thousands of Kurdish families, who were brought in by the Kurdish militias are building houses on Municipality and Turkmen lands.

One must remember also that American authorities turned a blind eye when the Kurds manipulated the elections in the north of the country in order to win the majority in the Kerkuk Council.

In fact, since 2003, the Kurdish militia with the help of the American occupiers have managed to completely change the demography of the Turkmen region, what the Baath regime had not been able to achieve in thirty-five years!

The Turkmens - who are the third main ethnic group in Iraq alongside their Arab and Kurdish compatriots and the second main ethnic group in the north of Iraq - are not willing to accept this “fait accompli”, they do not want to be considered as ‘second class citizens’ in their own region in the north of Iraq.

The Turkmens want to be masters of their own destiny in Iraq, they refuse to be part of any Kurdish entity and refuse to be under Kurdish domination; therefore they will never give up their struggle to obtain their legitimate rights to govern their own towns and cities in the north of Iraq.

Merry Fitzgerald
Committee for the Defence of the Iraqi Turkmen Rights

Hereunder is the article published in the Daily Star

Reconciliation could reap greater rewards for Kurds
Commentary by Safa A. Hussein*
May 28, 2007

One might argue that the discovery of vast quantities of oil near Kirkuk in 1927 shaped the direction in which the process of the formation of the modern Iraqi state was heading. It provided the impetus for the United Kingdom to support the Kingdom of Iraq (which was under its mandate) in its dispute with Turkey over the former Ottoman wilaya of Mosul (of which the Kirkuk region was a part). With British support, that region was annexed to Iraq. It is striking that after 80 years there is a new process of "reshaping" the Iraqi state in which Kirkuk may play a significant, even the most significant, role.

Historically, the city of Kirkuk had a mixed population (now around 750,000) of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen and Armenians who lived together in peace. This changed starting in the 1970s, when the Baath regime made continuous attempts to transform the ethnic make-up of the region. Kurds and Turkmen were forced out of Kirkuk to be replaced with Arab oil workers. These plans culminated in Saddam Hussein's "Arabization" plan and the anti-Kurdish Anfal campaign in 1988. After the 1991 Gulf war, the Iraqi government systematically expelled tens of thousands of Kurds, Turkmen and some Assyrians from Kirkuk and resettled Arab families from the south and center of Iraq in their place.

Soon after the United States-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, tensions surfaced between the different local ethnic groups. These tensions stimulated different responses from neighboring countries. Five factors may be behind these tensions.

First, the Iraqi insurgents, consisting mainly of people who lost their privileges after the collapse of the Baath regime, coordinated with international terrorists like Ansar al-Islam and Ansar al-Sunna, both Al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations. Attacks by these groups on the Kurds, Turkmen Shiites and Arab Shiites today threaten the ethnic balance. The successes of the security plans in Baghdad and Anbar may push more terrorists to Kirkuk to foment ethnic trouble, capitalizing on the divisions that already exist there.

Second, there is the threat of long-oppressed Kurds who are thirsting for justice and power in post-Saddam Iraq. Nearly 100,000 Kurds returned to Kirkuk in 2003 in an effort to reverse the Arabization of the city. As a result, many Arabs were forced to leave in what seemed a second wave of violence and ethnic cleansing. Kurdish leaders have appealed to their constituents to be patient and let the legal process determine property rights. For its part, the Iraqi government has endorsed a decision to relocate and compensate thousands of Arabs who moved to Kirkuk as part of Saddam Hussein's Arabization plan.

Third, Sunni Arabs, Turkmen and Turks fear the annexation of Kirkuk to the Kurdistan region. Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution mandates a referendum scheduled to occur no later than December 31, 2007, on whether Kirkuk Province should become part of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turkmen, who claim they were the majority in the city 50 years ago, believe that the annexation of Kirkuk by Kurdistan will further dilute their power and increase violence. The deputy head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front in Kirkuk recently said the implementation of Article 140 "will mean the total loss of the power of Turkmen." The local Turkmen believe that the solution to the Kirkuk problem mostly depends on what role Turkey plays. Meanwhile, Sunni Arabs have concerns about wealth-sharing after any annexation.

Fourth is the fact that Kurds are ignoring the concerns of the Sunni Arabs, the Turkmen and the Turks. The Kurds are moving systematically to guarantee Kirkuk's annexation into the Kurdistan Regional Government. Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a prominent Kurdish leader, recently said that Kurds have a "claim to Kirkuk rooted in history, geography and demographics. [But this] is a recipe for civil war if you don't do it right."

Fifth, Turkey has concerns that Kirkuk, with its over 10 billion barrels of proven oil reserves (as of 1998), will be annexed by the Kurdistan region. Turks believe that such annexation will provide the Kurdish region with the resources it needs to establish an independent Kurdish state. This in turn will create a security challenge for Turkey because of its Kurdish minority situation. Turkish officials have frequently expressed their concerns about the security of Turkmen in Kirkuk.

In the final assessment, the Kurds hold the wild card. The Turkmen are too fragmented politically and too weak militarily to stop the Kurds. Turkey can and will use the Turkmen card, but knows it is not a winning one. The Sunni Arabs will not be able to stop the Kurds democratically unless they align with the Shiites, which is unlikely. The insurgents can make life difficult, but they can't stop the Kurds. It seems the Kurds will go ahead and make Iraq pay a price of more violence and instability. This is unfortunate since the path of reconciliation could reap potentially greater future reward for Kurds.

* Safa A. Hussein is a former deputy member of the dissolved Iraqi Governing Council. Prior to joining the Transitional Government he served as a brigadier general in the Iraqi Air Force and worked in the military industry as director of a research and development center. Currently he works in the Iraqi National Security Council.
This commentary first appeared at, an online newsletter.

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