Iraq MP: Kurds causing demographic change in Kirkuk ‘intolerable’

An Iraqi lawmaker and senior representative of Iraq’s Turkmen minority community has denounced Kurdish attempts to effect demographic change in the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, slamming the alleged attempts as “becoming something that is intolerable”.

Arshad Al-Salihi, a native of Kirkuk and one of its MPs, accused the Kurdish authorities working under the aegis of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), an autonomous Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq, of attempting to change the divided city and province of the same name’s demographic make-up, Al Jazeera said.

Al-Salihi, who is also the leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), the main party representing Turkmens in Iraq, said that the population of Kirkuk province before the illegal US invasion in 2003 was 850,000 people.

However, since then, Al-Salihi has said that the population has exploded by almost double that figure, and now sits at 1,650,000. The Turkmen leader said that this was because Kurdish authorities had facilitated the relocation of hundreds of thousands of people from “the Kurdish demographic”, and was now provoking Kirkuk’s Arab and Turkmen population by controversially raising the KRG’s flag over government buildings.

Kirkuk Provincial Council members voted to raise the KRG flag alongside the Iraqi national flag last month in a vote that was boycotted by Arab and Turkmen councillors. Both groups complained that the council vote was “unconstitutional”.

‘Ethnic cleansing’ of Arabs, Turkmens

The ITF chief called for local elections to be held under special regulations that will secure the interests of all major ethnic groups in Kirkuk by preserving the administrative and political balance between them.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi denounced Kurdish moves to raise the KRG’s flag over national buildings as an action born of “sedition”, and also said that he supported special local elections in the province.

Al-Abadi also clarified that the Provincial Council has not had proper elections for over a decade, adding that his proposal for local elections was blocked by the High Electoral Commission.

“However, the Electoral Commission had a different opinion [to Al-Abadi’s] regarding this issue,” Al-Abadi explained, adding that “considering the fact that [Kirkuk] province has legal problems, and has had the same council for a period of 12 years.”

Al-Abadi cited the opposition of Arabs and Turkmens native to Kirkuk who are against the decision made by the Kirkuk Provincial Council after the groups boycotted the voting session.Despite allegations that his government rules Iraq in a sectarian manner that favours the Shia, the Iraqi prime minister criticised the Kurds of engaging in divisive ethnic politics:

The opinions of the Turkmens and Arabs were not taken into account…This country cannot be run with the logic of 50 plus one [per cent]. If you are the majority, you should not ignore the rights of the minorities. Rather, some subjects require [people] to come to an understanding.

Militias and security forces working for the Kurdish authorities were accused late last year of orchestrating an ethnic cleansing campaign as they began demolishing and attacking Arab homes in Kirkuk.

Barely a week after the campaign to oust Daesh from Mosul began, Kurdish authorities raided and destroyed Arab homes, and began deporting them from the area after Kurdish Asayish intelligence officials demanded their identity documents.

Kirkuk has long been disputed by the Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens with the Kurds seeing the city as part of their envisioned future state. Arabs and Turkmens, on the other hand, say that the fossil fuel rich city belongs to Iraq and should remain as part of the Iraqi state to guarantee the rights of all inhabitants.

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