by Joel Wing*
In the last two months, tensions within Kirkuk city and the province of Tamim have steadily increased. All three major groups, the Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen have been complaining about the governorate’s security forces and representation on the provincial council. The Turkmen Front want their own security forces, which led to the Arabs calling for theirs, and then boycotting the council, while the Kurds have complained about the Arab presence in Tamim. All of the recent rhetoric shows that the governorate is as divided as ever.
The latest spat started in mid-August 2011 with the Turkmen. On August 16, it was reported that the Turkmen Front wanted its own security force in the province. They said it was to counter the Kurdish presence already in Kirkuk, as well as to stop attacks upon their community. The Front claimed that the governor and U.S. forces had agreed to a 100-150 man force that would not be armed. At the end of the month, a Front politician expanded upon the idea, saying that two police regiments should be formed in the province made up of Turkmen. Alternatively, he said that two Federal Police regiments could be deployed to the governorate. He claimed this was necessary because the existing security forces were either infiltrated by insurgents or run by political parties, plus the Kurds had their own forces already in Tamim. It appeared that the Turkmen were divided however, when in early October, the head of the Democratic Party of Turkmen said that a Turkmen security forces would only create more divisions, and that security should be the responsibility of the Iraqi army. When speaking of Kirkuk and Tamim, the conversation usually focuses upon the Kurds and Arabs. This ignores the sizeable Turkmen presence in the governorate who consider themselves the equal of those other two. The Turkmen were victims of Saddam’s Arabization program, and felt victimized by the Kurds after the 2003 invasion when peshmerga forces swept into the province. They have laid claim to Tamim just as the other groups have, and their demand for their own security forces is just the latest manifestation of this.
The Turkmen’s call for their own militia inspired the Arabs to ask for one as well. In mid-September, the Arab Group on the Tamim provincial council said that they wanted their own security force if the Turkmen got one. This was one reason why the group announced a boycott of the council. The other cause was their demand for more political representation in the governorate. At the end of August for example, the Arab Council threatened demonstrations if they weren’t given more spots on the council and in the security forces. They have been calling for the implementation of a power sharing deal agreed upon back at the end of 2007 that would divide all of the positions within the province equally between the Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen, each receiving 32%, and the Christians 4%. The Arabs currently hold 15% of the council seats and the deputy governorship, because they largely boycotted the 2005 elections. The Kurds on the other hand, have 64% of the seats. By September, they were claiming that Iyad Allawi and the Iraqi National Movement, which they had supported in the March 2010 national elections, had sold them out to the Kurds in return for their support in Allawi’s dispute with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They also accused the Turkmen and Kurds within the governorate of working out a political deal that excluded them when a Turkmen was named the new head of the provincial council back in March. The Arab Council seems to be especially threatened right now. They claim the Turkmen and Kurds are going to shut them out politically. Not only that, but every time one major group in the province demands something, they feel as if they have to do the same to maintain the ethnosectarian balance within Tamim. That is the reason for their recent comments about the security forces, and the provincial council.
The Kurds are playing right along with the other two groups. In mid-August, the Kurdish parties demanded that they get the same amount of members in the provincial security forces as the Arabs. A parliamentarian from the Kurdish Coalition claimed that the 12th Iraqi Army Division, which was stationed in Tamim, was upsetting the ethnosectarian balance because it was mostly made up of Arab soldiers. In October, the provincial police chief, General Jamal Tahir Bakr, who happens to be a Kurd, took it to another level when he claimed that 15,000 Arabs had moved into the governorate since 2003, and that they should all leave. He went on to say that they were “illegal settlers,” and a security threat because they collaborate with insurgents. He went as far as to threaten to arrest all of these “illegal” settlers. The Kurds have made similar claims in the past. They consider any Arab that moved to the province in the last several decades part of the Baath Party’s Arabization policy. They believe that this policy has been implicitly continued after the overthrow of Saddam. The Kurds ultimately want to annex Kirkuk and other regions of the province, and the Arabs are one of their main opponents. The Kurdish parties therefore, have been trying to change the demographics of the province since 2003, by moving Kurds back in, and trying to encourage the Arabs to leave. The demand for a larger share of the security forces, and threatening to arrest Arab settlers is all part of their plan to create facts on the ground that will ultimately strengthen their case to transfer Kirkuk to Kurdistan.
This recent set of demands and accusations are nothing new for Tamim. Every couple months, one major group complains that their opponents are snatching up power, and that they are losing out as a result. This latest rhetoric by the Turkmen, Arabs, and Kurds therefore is nothing new. It all shows that the new Iraq is still dealing with the old one. Saddam Hussein attempted to Arabize Kirkuk to strengthen the central government’s hold over the oil rich area. Since 2003, the Kurds have been trying to reverse this process, and annex it. This has severely threatened the Arabs and Turkmen who want to either make the governorate an autonomous area or keep it under central government control. All of this is the reason why the major groups in the province continue to verbally attack and accuse each other. None of this is likely to end any time soon as Baghdad is incapable of solving the major problems in the country right now, because the parties are more interested in maintaining their positions, and outmaneuvering their rivals. As a consequence, the status quo in Tamim will remain, and this back and forth will continue.
*With an MA in International Relations, Joel Wing has been researching and writing about Iraq since 2002. His acclaimed blog, Musings on Iraq, is currently listed by the New York Times and the World Politics Review. In addition, Mr. Wing’s work has been cited by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Guardian and the Washington Independent.