The Flag of Kurdistan flies on the outskirkts of Kikruk in October 2017. Photo: Ahmed al-Rubaye | AFP
By Srwa Ahmad
Hazhar Nuri is a Kurdish resident of Kirkuk who fled to Erbil after the events of October 16. He has since returned to his home city, but says he does not feel safe.
“There are no Kurdish forces to protect us. We are like guests here. We don’t feel there is peace and stability. Who is here to support us in case the force that is here causes trouble for us?” he asked.
The withdrawal of Peshmerga from Kirkuk and the arrival of Hashd al-Shaabi and Iraqi army forces came amid rising instability in the province.
No decision has been made on the return of Peshmerga to the city to administer joint security, although the ministry of Peshmerga hopes the issue is including in negotiations on the formation of the new Iraqi government.
Many are looking at developments in Tuz Khurmatu as a possible road map for improving the situation. Seven of the town’s officials appealed to the Shiites’ supreme authority in Najaf to raise concerns about the behavior of security forces.
Iraqi Rapid Response Forces were deployed to many areas after their visit to the Shiite high authority.
“In our visit, we asked for a neutral force to be sent to our area that can restore calm to the city. And they sent Rapid Response Forces who are now deployed in most places,” Mohammed Fayeq, media officer for the mayor of Tuz Khurmatu, told Rudaw.
According to figures produced by the Tuz Khurmatu mayor’s office, around 70 IDP families returned to the town last week. According to the same figures, 251 houses and 300 shops had been burned, 76 houses blown up, and 2,000 homes looted following the events of October 16.
“There is information that Peshmerga and federal police forces will return to these places after the new government is formed,” Fayeq added.
Some Kurdish parties have already returned to Kirkuk and other Kurdistani areas on condition they station no more than six guards outside their headquarters and their weapons are registered.
Residents living outside Kirkuk are under threat from remnants of ISIS active in the city’s western suburbs.
Others face problems with Arab settlers.
Recently, a fight broke out between the Kurds and Arab settlers in the village of Palkana west of Kirkuk, where Arab settlers seized lands owned by the Kurds by force.
Farhad Ismael is a Kurdish resident from the area.
“They seize our lands and humiliate us. Those who raided us carried guns. An Iraqi officer came and supported them,” he told Rudaw.
According to residents, more than 80 Arab families have come to settle in areas surrounding the village.
“This case is related to Article 140. The court cannot arbitrate this. There is an Arab force stationed here, which is why these Arabs come and raid Kurdish homes. The Kurds should therefore push for the return of Peshmerga forces to this area in negotiations for the formation of the new government,” said Rebwar Taha, an Iraqi MP.
Hashd al-Shaabi denies Kurdish people were threatened in the area.
“Security situations have been very good following the events of October 16. No one is above the law, and relations between the nations in the area are fraternal and normal,” Sayd Ali Hashimi, the Hashd al-Shaabi spokesperson north of Tuz Khurmatu, told Rudaw.
“Most IDPs, except those wanted by the court, have returned,” he added.
Rapid Response Forces have no problem with the return of Peshmerga forces to these areas. They say their return is related to a possible agreement between Baghdad and Erbil.
“All nations and religions are treated equally. There are no problems between them. Anyone who hurts people will face legal proceedings regardless of the nation or religion he comes from,” Brigadier Samr Mohammed, commander of Rapid Response Division, told Rudaw.
He also called on IDPs to return to their places of origin, arguing the law is free and independent. This is why 90 percent of IDPs have returned, he said.
“The return of Peshmerga depends on a deal between Baghdad and Erbil. We have no problem with their return. We will welcome them if an agreement is reached,” Samr added.
However, the Nasr (Victory) Alliance, headed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, rejects the return of Peshmerga forces to Kirkuk.
“Controlling these areas by the Iraqi army is the best solution until article 140 is settled. Peshmerga forces have committed many violations in these areas. That is why people reject the return of Peshmerga,” said Nazim Saadi, a Nasr official.
The Peshmerga ministry has demanded the return of its forces to the disputed areas is included in government formation talks.
“The Kurds should make the return of Peshmerga forces to disputed areas a condition for talks on the formation of the new Iraqi government,” Jabar Yawar, the secretary general of the ministry of Peshmerga, said.