Kurdish Peshmerga forces passing through Kirkuk on their way to defense lines south of the province, June 26. Photo: Rudaw
KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region—Kirkuk’s Turkmen population are counting on the Kurdish Peshmerga forces for protection, said Najat Hussein of the Turkmen bloc and former member of Kirkuk Provincial Council on Friday, a day after the Kurdish president visited the multiethnic city.
“We (Turkmens) are 95 percent dependent on the Peshmerga forces,” Hussein told Rudaw. “We thank Peshmerga forces for their coming to Kirkuk ad we are ready to fight alongside them.”
Hussein said that the deployment of Kurdish forces in and around Kirkuk was essential for the safety of the Turkmen minority who are mostly Shiites and fear attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“While the Peshmerga are all Kurds, their duty is to protect everyone,” he said. “The Peshmerga have proven in the last two weeks that they don’t only work for the Kurds, but for all the ethnics and sects of Kirkuk.”
Hussein’s comments resonated with a statement by Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani who said during his visit to Kirkuk on Thursday, “My visit here is to meet with military, security and political parties and about how to protect Kirkuk and how to make it an example of ethnic and religious coexistence.”
Kirkuk’s Turkmen population occupy important posts in the local government and despite past political disputes with the Kurds, they have now found a common adversary in the Sunni militants who make Shiites and their places of worship a primary target.
“We Turkmen have the same fate as Kurds,” said Hussein. “Now is not the time to talk about the future of Kirkuk, this should be delayed for after this situation.”
In the past several years Turkmen religious ceremonies have been targeted by suicide bombers in Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu, claiming many lives.
In a latest attack last week, the head of Kirkuk provincial council, Munir al-Kafili, a Turkmen, was gunned down in the city center by unknown armed men.
Also in the past two weeks, ISIS fighters have launched several attacks against Turkmen villages south of Kirkuk, mainly Bashir village, leading to fierce clashes with Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
Turkmen leaders in Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu had asked the Iraqi government earlier this year to form a Turkmen self-defense militia which received a cold response from Baghdad.
According to Hussein however, the Turkmen have now “received certain quantity of weapons from the central government by plane in coordination with the governor of Kirkuk.”
He said that the 1,000 Turkmen armed men are willing to the fight against the Islamic militants.
Hussein urged unity among Kirkuk’s different ethnic groups in the face of the ISIS whom he called “the enemy of all.”
“It’s no time for political differences among the parties of Kirkuk,” he said. “We need to set aside the differences because the enemy has targeted all of us, including Kurds, Turkmens, Arabs, Shia and Sunnis.”