Tensions Rise In Iraq’s Kirkuk Over Protests And The Peshmerga
SUNDAY, MARCH 6, 2011
Tensions Rise In Iraq’s Kirkuk Over Protests And The Peshmerga
A new deployment of Kurdish peshmerga outside of Kirkuk has set off tensions between Iraq’s Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen. During national protests peshmerga were sent to just outside of the city. While security against terrorists was the official reason for their presence, they were actually deployed to help quell demonstrations. Since then Arab and Turkmen politicians in Kirkuk have demanded that they leave, while Baghdad has sided with the Kurds.
On February 23, 2011, Kurdish politicians in Tamim claimed that they had evidence of plots against Kurds in the province. A Kurdish parliamentarian said that the Arab Council, a tribal group, planned on attacking the Kurdish Asayesh, government offices, and police stations run by Kurds. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was also worried about the upcoming Day of Rage protests planned across the country, and requested 1,000 peshmerga to be deployed to the west of Kirkuk on February 25 as a result. The matter was discussed with the governor of Tamim, and welcomed by the United States military. Provincial and national leaders were obviously nervous about what might happen during the demonstrations.
On the 25th there were three protests in the governorate, all of which turned violent. In Kirkuk, mostly Arabs with a few Turkmen turned out. They called for better services, the end of Article 140 that sets up a process for the Kurds to annex the disputed territories in northern Iraq, more jobs, and to fight corruption. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) warned Kurds not to participate. Protesters ended up storming a police station and the governor’s offices, which led the security forces to fire shots to disperse them. Three people ended up dying, and ten policemen were wounded. A curfew was imposed immediately afterward. Protests also occurred in Riyadh, where the city council and municipal offices were set on fire, and Hawija where the crowd held pictures of Saddam Hussein and waved the old Iraqi flag. Police opened fire in Hawija as the masses moved towards the town hall, leading to three deaths, and fifteen being wounded. Similar events happened across the country that day in nine other provinces and fifteen different cities.
In the following days the PUK and KDP condemned the Day of Rage in Tamim. They claimed that the Arab Council was trying to exploit the demonstrations for their own ends, condemned the attacks upon government buildings and the pictures of Saddam shown in Hawija, and went as far as to accuse the people of trying to stage a coup. The Kurdish Peshmerga Minister also noted that his forces were going to stay in the governorate until it was stable, meaning free of protests. The ruling Kurdish parties were already facing growing protests in Sulaymaniya, and were now confronted with angry Arabs and Turkmen in Tamim. If they grew in intensity, they could disrupt the fragile status quo between Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen in the governorate.
Arabs and Turkmen responded by attacking the new peshmerga presence outside Kirkuk. Arab members of the provincial council called for the Kurdish forces to withdraw on February 26. On March 1, the Iraqi Turkmen Front made the same demand, saying that the peshmerga were illegally in the area. They too were worried that an increased peshmerga presence in Tamim would be a step towards greater Kurdish control there.
Baghdad came down on the side of the Kurds, showing that the protests had scared all those in power. The Deputy Interior Minister condemned the Day of Rage as a coup attempt as well, parroting the KDP and PUK. He mentioned Tamim as one province where protesters were trying to undermine the political process, and criticized the Arab leaders in Kirkuk who called for the peshmerga to withdraw. In turn, he blamed the Day of Rage for the peshmerga being deployed to Tamim in the first place, and that they were only there to help with security. Maliki has increasingly attacked the motivations of the protesters, and tried to limit their scope by using the army and police. Like the PUK and KDP, the premier is worried about the consequences of growing demonstrations.
The 1,000 peshmerga in Tamim has upset the balance within the governorate. Previously, the Kurdish forces were only north of Kirkuk, while the Iraqi army was in the south. Now there are peshmerga to the west of Kirkuk as well. National leaders such as Prime Minister Maliki and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani support the new move out of fear that the protests might challenge their power. Local Arabs and Turkmen however, are afraid that the peshmerga may stay, providing greater Kurdish control over the province, and another step towards annexing Kirkuk and other disputed areas of Tamim to Kurdistan. The new Kurdish forces are probably only in the area as long as there are threats of demonstrations. The arguments they have caused however, show the tensions that exist in the province between the three main ethnic groups that result from the disputed territories. They also display how those in power have found common cause in putting down demonstrations. This intersection of local and national concerns has always been present in Tamim, and this is just the latest example.
Ahmed, Hevidar, “Minister rejects U.S. demand for Kurdish troops’ withdrawal from Kirkuk,” AK News, 3/4/11
AK News, “Peshmerga forces protect Kirkuk,” 3/3/11
Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraq’s Turkoman Front demands Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrawal from Kirkuk:,” 3/1/11
- “Kurdish Peshmerga Minister denies his forces entered Kirkuk,” 2/28/11
- “Peshmerga forces stationed near Kirkuk,” 2/26/11
- “Two wounded demonstrators die in Tikrit, hundreds demonstrate in Balad city:,” 2/26/11
Davis, Aaron, “In Kirkuk, a test of U.S. peacekeepers’ lasting impact,” Washington Post, 2/8/11
Hamad, Qassim Khidhir, “ethnic division makes any protest suspicious,” Niqash, 3/2/11
Hameed, Leila, “Protesters control part of Kirkuk,” AK News, 2/26/11
Horami, Sirwa, “Kurdish ruling parties news statement on Kirkuk,” AK News, 2/27/11
Karim, Karzan, “Interior official: Recent demos were coups against Iraqi govt.,” AK News, 3/1/11
McCrummen, Stephanie, “13 killed in Iraq’s ‘Day of Rage’ protests,” Washington Post, 2/25/11
- “23 killed in Iraq’s ‘Day of Rage,’” Washington Post, 2/25/11
Rostam, Nabaz, “Second curfew imposed in Kirkuk,” AK News, 3/1/11
Salaheddin, Sinan, “6 killed in as Iraqis protest in ‘Day of Rage,’” Associated Press, 2/25/11
Mortar shells wound 2 civilians in Baghdad Civilian gunned down in eastern Mosul Kurdistan parliament adjourns session until Tuesday U.S. embassy condemns attacks on media institutions U.S. forces arrest 2 cops south of Amara - security commission
Iraq’s Turkoman Front demands Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrawal from Kirkuk: 3/1/2011 10:24 AM
KIRKUK / Aswat al-Iraq: The Iraqi Turkoman Front has demanded on Tuesday the withdrawal of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces from the city, considering their presence in the city as “illegal and unconstitutional.”
“The spread of the Peshmerga elements in Kirkuk is illegal and stands counter to the constitution, which allows such spread of those elements in the three provinces of (north Iraq’s) Kurdistan Region only,” a Front’s statement said, adding that “the Kurdish side had informed the Front with this position, during the Kurdish Peshmerga Minister’s visit to the Front.”
The statement, copy of which was received by Aswat al-Iraq news agency, pointed out that the Front’s leadership “does not accept the presence of the Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk, and we shall continue demanding their withdrawal from the city.”
“We have informed the Kurdish side that the presence of the Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk was causing a lot of problems and had become a source for the loss of trust towards them,” the statement
Arab and Turkoman Members in Kirkuk’s Provincial Council, had informed Aswat al-Iraq few days ago that “the Peshmerga forces have entered in Kirkuk, in response to an Iraqi government’s demand, as part of its fear that armed groups might enter the Province,” thing that was denied by the Peshmerga Minister in Kurdistan Region’s government, Sheikh Jaafar Sheikh Mustapha.
Meanwhile, the Vice-Chairman of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Nichervan Barzani, had stated that the Peshmerga forces, stationed outside Kirkuk, “were defending the components of the city,” pointing out that their presence had been decided in coordination with the Iraqi government.
In conclusion, the Iraqi Turkoman Front reiterated “necessity for the withdrawal of the (Peshmerga) elements from Kirkuk, and to lean to talks and consultations to settle all issues, based on laws and legal documents, being an initial step to achieve stability in Kirkuk and the whole country of Iraq."
FT / SKH