4 November 2012 / AYDIN ALBAYRAK, ANKARA
Iraqi Turkmen, who found themselves in a disadvantaged position in the days following the US occupation of Iraq, have been lobbying to raise the status of two Turkmen districts to provincial status in order to correct what they believe is an imbalance of rights in the country.
About two weeks ago, representatives of Iraqi Turkmen submitted to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani a proposal that the districts of Tal Afar and Tuz Khurmatu be granted provincial status. And according to the Al-Hayat daily, published in Arabic in England, Talabani has expressed a positive attitude towards the Turkmens’ proposal.
But analysts don’t believe Tal Afar and Tuz Khurmatu stand a good chance of receiving provincial status. According to Bilgay Duman, a Middle East analyst from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) who believes Talabani’s positive attitude towards the Turkmen proposal may be more of a domestic policy maneuver, says this may be seen as part of efforts on the part of Kurds to bring Turkmens closer to Kurds, and against the Arabs. “For one thing, Talabani is not endowed with the authority to put this demand into practice,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.
Even in Kirkuk, which is historically known as a Turkmen city, Iraqi Turkmens constitute only the third largest community, coming in after Kurds and Arabs, after a couple of hundred thousand Kurds migrated to the city following the US occupation; and Tal Afar and Tuz Khurmatu are the only cities in Iraq where Turkmen people are the majority. In Tal Afar, Turkmens are believed to constitute about 90 percent of the population, while in Tuz Khurmatu about half the population.
In contrast to other constituent communities, such as Arabs and Kurds, in Iraq, there are no provinces governed by Iraqi Turkmens. So, should the proposal ever be adopted officially, which seems to be a slim possibility given the fragile political balances in the country, that would considerably strengthen the position of Iraqi Turkmens, as the provinces are entitled to get representation in the legislative body and more funding from the central government.
Najaf and Dohuk, two Iraqi towns that have a population of 150,000 each, were in past years granted provincial status. Therefore, theoretically, it looks just as possible that Tal Afar, which is the biggest district in Iraq with a population of about 400,000, and Tuz Khurmatu with a population of 150,000 may be granted provincial status
But realistically, chances look slim, because it also means changing political balances in a fragile Iraq. Tal Afar, which is a district in the province of Mosul, an Arab majority province in the north of the country, is a source of conflict between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central Iraqi government. Both demand that the town, which is a passage point bordering both Turkey and Syria, while dividing the densely Kurdish-populated areas in the north of the country, should be placed under its own administration. Tal Afar is also important for the Shiite-dominated central government given that half the Turkmen in the city belong to the Shiite sect of Islam.
Tuz Khurmatu’s position is no different; it is also a passage point between Baghdad and oil-rich Kirkuk, the administrative status of which is yet to be determined. This area has also caused much heated debate in the country. Mahir Nakip, an Iraqi Turkmen from Kirkuk who has been living in Turkey for a long time and is the spokesperson of the İstanbul-based Kirkuk Foundation, also believes the adoption of the Turkmens’ proposal, which may be appealing for Iraqi Turkmens, would upset balances in Iraq. “Sunni Arabs would oppose it in the first place,” he told Sunday’s Zaman, noting that Mosul province, having already lost two of its districts to Kurds in past years, would then remain as a little Sunni Arab-majority province. Nakip believes Kurds would also oppose such a possibility. With other groups in Iraq opposing it, the proposal does not have much of a chance to be put into practice.
In recent months, attacks against Turkmens have increased. The deputy head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), Ali Haşim Muhtaroğlu, was targeted in a failed bomb attack last week. The attack in which Muhtaroğlu, who is also an assembly member of Salahaddin province, of which Tuz Khurmatu is a part, was not wounded is believed to have been aimed at intimidating Turkmen people.Iraqi Turkmens’ position got comparatively better, though not in substance, when the Iraqi parliament approved in July the recommendations of a report, bestowing on them the status of the third largest ethnic group in the country. After the American occupation began in 2003, Turkmens were victimized, facing discrimination in Iraq as the Turkish Parliament rejected a motion allowing US land forces to enter Iraqi territory by way of Turkey in the days leading up to the occupation.
The Turkmen people in Iraq are estimated to make up nearly 10 percent of the population, but they were not considered to be one of the constituent elements of the Iraqi state together with the Arabs and the Kurds, and thus have been underrepresented in politics and government offices. And after the occupation in provinces such as Kirkuk, Arabs, in accordance with a policy of Arabization that was in effect before the occupation, and Kurds, were allowed to seize pieces of land that officially belonged to the Turkmen people.