DUBIZ, Kurdistan Region – A number of Kurdish villagers in Kirkuk have been given a 72-hour ultimatum to leave their homes, instead allowing other people from an Arab tribe to take their places, witnesses, officials and official letters that go back as early as November 5 reveal.
Locals and officials describe the move as a continuation of the infamous process of Arabization that lasted for at least three decades under the Baathist regime, but was stopped when the new Iraq was founded in 2003.
Iraqi Deputy Parliament Speaker Aram Mohammed, a Kurd, stated that they have notified Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi about the “dangerous precedent.”
Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said his government is concerned about the resumption of Arabization in areas around Kirkuk and demanded the practice be stopped.
"In our view, this is not in the interest of the Kurdistan Region or Iraq,” Barzani said in a press conference on Thursday. “We believe resuming Arabization in that area creates more instability, more insecurity. This will not solve any problem.”
“We demand this be stopped. We demand the government of Iraq, the United Nations interfere,” he stated, warning that the area risks entering a new cycle of instability.
At least 500 Arab people accompanied by military vehicles of the Federal Police showed up at Palkana village in Dibis or Dubiz district, west of Kirkuk on Wednesday morning at about 10 a.m., witnesses who fled the village told Rudaw.
Fakhir Ismael, from Palakana of the Sargaran sub-district, said that the Arabs were cheerful and celebrating when they entered the village.
He told Rudaw when they enquired about the presence of the large number of Arab people in their village, one of them replied to him that “we will drive you out, you dogs!” Ismael said, explaining the villagers and the newcomers began to quarrel, only to be separated by the police force.
Fakhir Ismail, evicted from his house on Wednesday, speaks to a Rudaw reporter in a village in Dubiz, west of Kirkuk.
The police told the villagers that they should have a meeting at a later time in the day to “reach an understanding,” a demand first refused by the villagers as they believed they are the rightful owners.
He said that the Arabs had orders signed by the acting Kirkuk Governor, and military commanders instructing the authorities to evict the Kurdish population from Palkana and at least three other villages.
“They had an order from Kirkuk provincial government, and the commander of the deployment of Federal Police [in Kirkuk]. It was not from Baghdad, it was signed only by these two. They had this order so that they can force us out once again,” he told Rudaw while accompanied by at least a dozen people who were forcibly displaced from their homes.
“Take this, you have now 72 hours to leave,” Fakhir said of the order they received from the Federal Police.
Aram Mohammed, the deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, said in a statement that they had confirmed the villagers were given 72 hours to leave, which was also reported by Sargaran’s top officer Luqman Husen.
The affected villages are part of the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad. The fate of these areas is to be determined by the implementation of Article 140 that includes a series of steps such as a reverse to the process of Arabization that was conducted by the Baathist government until the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The article should have been implemented by 2007 per the Iraqi constitution.
“At a time we are busy to return back the Kurds displaced from Tuz Khurmatu and normalize the situation there...this dangerous precedence does not help returning stability and co-existence in the disputed areas,” Mohammed said in his statement.
Khurmatu, located south of Kirkuk, came under the control of the Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi forces on October 16, the same day as the fall of Kirkuk, after driving out Kurdish Peshmerga.
Tens of thousands of Kurds fled their homes as they were ethnically-targeted in Khurmatu. Rights organizations such Amnesty International, as well as a UN probe found hundreds of cases of burning, bombing and looting of houses and business of mainly Kurdish residents in the diverse city. The Kurdish parliament labeled such acts alongside revenge killings “genocide,” while the Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki described it as “ethnic cleansing.”
Mohammed added that Kurds have a “bitter” experience with the process of Arabization, something that must not happen in a “democratic Iraq.”
Ismael, Palakana resident whose house has been occupied by an Arab family now, said that the Arab tribe had been to the village many times, “but this time in a bigger number...accompanied by the police force.”
“We had been forced from our homes once,” he said, about the Arabization process under the former Iraqi regime that forcibly removed the Kurds from their home villages and towns.
“I appeal to not let this happen again. What is our sin? Is it just because we are Kurds?” he posited.
Another man, who gave only his first name, Dashti, had his house confiscated by an Arab family, said that they were told the order is in two stages.
“They said this is the first stage,” he said referring to the confiscation of homes, “the second stage is to take the [agriculture] land.”
Abadi appointed Rakan al-Jabouri, a Sunni Arab, as the acting governor following the fall of Kirkuk in October. He became the first Arab governor there since 2003.
An official letter obtained by Rudaw titled “returning the abandoned villages” dated November 5 was sent by acting governor al-Jabouri that instructs the mayor office in Dubiz to “do whatever needed” to help an Arab Sheikh named Ali Hawas al-Hathmi from the Shammar tribe to help his tribesmen to reside in the villages requested by the tribe’s leader. It requested the local government to cooperate with the security forces to implement the instruction from the governor office.
A second letter also obtained by Rudaw, dated November 4, which was signed by the acting governor reads that they have attached a request from the same man, identified as head of the Shammar tribe, to reside “in their villages.” It added that these people from the Shammar tribe do not have the right to use farms in the identified areas without first getting a “response from the directorate of Kirkuk culture.”
In late November
, Mahdi Mubarak, the director of Kirkuk’s Agriculture Department who fled to Erbil after the events of October 16, used oversee compensation for Arab families and the return of land they had occupied to their rightful owners.
“The Arabs whose contracts we had cancelled for seizing peoples’ land have taken these lands back from their rightful owners and cultivated them again, especially in Dubiz, Daquq and Yaychi,” Mubarak said then of the fertile areas.
“These contracts were cancelled in accordance with Section No. 4 of Article 140 in 2007, and the lands were given back to their owners. They (the Arabs) are now asking the agriculture departments for these places not to recognize these decisions, even putting pressure on them in some places,” he claimed.
The committees formed to implement Article 140 worked in Kirkuk for six years. They gave 10 of millions of dollars in compensation to the Arabs brought to the area during the former regime’s Arabization campaign from 1975 to 2003.
According to figures provided by Kirkuk’s Agriculture Department, more than 1.2 million acres of agricultural land were returned to their owners who were mostly Kurds, along with some Turkmen.
“Arabization is on the rise in Dubiz,” Majid Mahmud, Kirkuk provincial council member, also said then. “Many Arabs have returned there, and we are monitoring the situation. They have benefitted from current conditions. The ministry of agriculture in Baghdad makes many decisions that favor settled Arabs.”
Mahmud estimated that at least 300,000 acres of land has fallen back into the hands of the Arabs.
Updated at 4:42 pm