Murder and kidnap have spread through the city of Kirkuk since the events of October 16. Now city officials have begun settling Arab families on the land and Kurdish officials have been replaced by Arabs and Turkmen.
The Kurds of the city are particularly concerned about instructions issued by the Kirkuk governor and the Iraqi agriculture ministry to return the farmlands owned by Kurds to Arab settlers, who were offered these lands by Saddam Hussein in the past.
The farmland on the outskirts of Kirkuk owned by Kurds and Turkmen was seized by the Baath regime between 1975 and 1995 under different pretexts in aid of its Arabization project – 1,193,164 acres of land in all.
These lands are mostly located around Kurdish and Turkmen villages in the suburbs of Kirkuk. During the Baath party’s rule, indigenous residents of these villages were expelled and their lands given to Arab settlers.
After the fall of Saddam, Kurds returned to their land and Arab settlers were compensated in accordance with article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. These Arab settlers had to return to their original homes.
During the fourteen years between the fall of Saddam and the October events, few of these lands were cultivated by the Kurds. Some have been abandoned by their owners.
Now it seems Arabization is back with a vengeance.
Baghdad is practicing this policy deliberately through the acting governor of Kirkuk, Rakan Saeed. And this practice is deepening disputes with the Kurds and Sunnis in the city, giving the Shiites the power to dominate Kirkuk through newly-appointed Shiite Turkmen. By doing this, Baghdad hopes to draw the Turkmen of the city into its embrace, and away from Turkey and the Kurds.
What are the Kurds doing to prevent this new wave of Arabization and ethnic cleaning?
The people of the Kurdistan Region are unaware of what is happening in Kirkuk. And this is because of Kurdish disunity on Kirkuk, the implications of October 16 events, and media apathy toward the dangers and threats to the city. They might not believe the way Kirkuk is being run is akin to Baath party rule.
Baghdad is influencing Kirkuk systematically. And there are many officials within Kurdish parties who are drawn and committed to the strategy Baghdad is pursuing, strengthening Baghdad’s position in Kirkuk and undermining the Kurdish role in the city.
Kirkuk will have a decisive provincial election in the next few months. Unlike the May 12 election, Baghdad may not honor the mechanisms used to maintain the ethnic balance of the city administration. It could force Kurdish influence out of office.
The Kurdish position in Kirkuk is increasingly undermined. Kurds must work together to prevent a return to the Baathist era.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.