Around 2,000 Arabs agree to leave current homes after receiving compensation of $15,000 each.
KIRKUK, Iraq - Thousands of Iraqi Arabs have accepted financial compensation to leave the northern city of Kirkuk, which leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region are seeking to control, a minister said Thursday.
Around 2,000 Arabs living there had agreed to leave their homes and return to their original provinces under an initiative launched by the committee in charge of overseeing relations in Kirkuk, Environment Minister Nermeen Othman said.
"The supreme committee... finished approving 2,000 applications submitted by Arab residents in Kirkuk who want to receive compensation of 15,000 dollars (10,600 euros) to return to their original residence places," she said.
Technical problems related to changing ID registers had prevented the payment of cheques so far, but the applicants had been approved and would be paid in the next few days, she said.
According to Othman, herself a Kurd, a budget of 200 million dollars has been allocated by the Iraq government to pay the compensation packages of those willing to leave the city.
Many of the Arabs have been subjected to violence by Kurds in order to force them to leave the oil-rich city.
Tensions between Kirkuk's Kurdish, Arab, and Turkmen communities have risen ahead of a constitutionally mandated popular referendum on the oil-rich city's future, which is supposed to be held this year.
One million Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens live in Kirkuk although the exact split between the communities is not officially known.
Kirkuk's Kurds would like to see it join the Kurdish Regional Government.
The new Iraqi constitution adopted after the US-led invasion in March 2003 stipulates that Kirkuk's status must be sorted out before the end of 2007 by a referendum.
No date has been fixed for the referendum, which the Kurds have been strongly encouraging as they are confident of winning a majority, but which Baghdad says cannot be held until after a proper census.
Kirkuk's Sunni Arabs and its centuries-old Turkmen community want to postpone the vote until the dust of war clears.