mardi 18 septembre 2007

Iraq's Turkmens appeal for protection

Fawzi Akram Tarzi

Middle East Features
Iraq's Turkmen minority appeals for protection

By Ibrahim Khalil

Sep 17, 2007

Baghdad - Iraq's Turkmen minority leaders are urging the central government to provide protection for areas where they live, saying their community is facing a campaign of systematic killings.

Turkmens, whether Shiite or Sunni Muslims, are facing campaigns of genocide by militant Islamic groups, terrorists and political parties in power in areas where they live, according to Fawzy Akram Tarzi, a representative of Shiite Turkmens in the al-Sadr Bloc.

Iraq's Turkmens are a people of Turkish descent who mainly live in the country's northern provinces and see the city of Kerkuk as their base.

Tarzi urged the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to provide protection of Turkmen areas from Talafar to Mandeli, both cities in northern Iraq.

Deadly attacks in northern Iraqi cities, the most recent of which was Sunday's bombing in the town of Tuz Khurmato, have claimed the lives of many Turkmens and other Iraqis.

Turkmens, who are Iraq's third largest ethnic community, have been marginalized over the last four years and have not gained their rights, Tarzi charged.

A politician from the Turkmen Front, Ali Mokhtar Uglu, said his community could no longer remain silent over crimes of genocide against it.

Pleading for protection for his community, Uglu said Turkmens were targeted simply because they were committed to their country's unity.

'They are Iraqis who reject federalism and occupation. They stand against normalization of the situation in Kerkuk because this has dangerous political dimensions threatening Iraq, its security and unity,' Uglu said.

The future of the northern city of Kerkuk, which is seen as a microcosm of Iraq for its mix of several ethnicities, is a bone of contention between Kurds on the one hand and Turkmens and Sunni Arabs on the other.

The city has seen a surge in violence since the implementation of Iraq's new constitution in which the contentious article 14 outlines a three-step plan to reverse the Arabization policy of Saddam's regime. This policy was part of Saddam's campaign to push out the Kurds.

The constitution also provides for a census followed by a referendum to decide the future of the city to which the Turkmen and Arab populations are opposed. Kurds, however, support it as it is likely to pave the way for the city to be integrated into the Autonomous Kurdish Region.

An expert on Turkmen affairs in Kerkuk, Matin Qasab, said hundreds of Turkmens have been killed and kidnapped in the last four years. He claimed Turkmens paid about 22 million dollars in ransom as kidnappings of their wealthy and professional classes continued.

Jamal Shan, a member of the Turkmen Nationalist Party, blamed Iraq's ruling coalition of Shiite and Kurdish parties for the failure to resolve the Kerkuk issue. He called members of the Kurdish and Shiite coalition 'a racist, nationalist alliance.'

Turkmen politician, Akram Tarzi, called on the US troops and the government to form military units made up of Turkmens to take charge of defending areas where the community lives.

This demand has also been supported by another politician, Jamal Shan.

Turkey, which has often been accused by Baghdad of interfering in Kerkuk, says it acts to protect Turkmens' interests.

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