Dan­ger­ous di­vi­sions threaten to burst out

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

All along the street, houses have been re­duced to rub­ble in the cen­tral Iraqi city of Kirkuk. The work of Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces re­tal­i­at­ing against Sunni Arabs af­ter a re­cent Is­lamic State group at­tack, res­i­dents say. Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces moved in with bull­doz­ers and ex­ca­va­tors and de­mol­ished at least 100 homes in the Huzeiran neigh­bor­hood of Kirkuk in the week af­ter a deadly sui­cide bomb­ing in Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to res­i­dents in­ter­viewed by The As­so­ci­ated Press and a re­port by Hu­man Rights Watch.

The de­struc­tion points to the dan­ger­ous di­vi­sions that threaten to burst out now that the IS “caliphate” ap­pears on the verge of col­laps­ing with the as­sault on its bas­tion Mo­sul fur­ther north. Oil-rich Kirkuk, in north­east­ern Iraq, is a par­tic­u­lar flash­point: It is split be­tween Kur­dish, Arab and Turk­men pop­u­la­tions, each of which have his­tor­i­cally claimed it as its own. Dur­ing the fight against IS, the Kurds seized con­trol of the city and have said they will keep it, open­ing a likely dis­pute with the cen­tral gov­ern­ment and the other lo­cal pop­u­la­tions.

Bro­ken home

“This is my house and this is my tragedy,” said one Arab res­i­dent of Huzeiran. The build­ing that was once her fam­ily home now lies in ruin. She said Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces came into the neigh­bor­hood, la­beled her build­ing “con­fis­cated” and ejected her fam­ily. They also took their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments, she said, speak­ing on con­di­tion she only be iden­ti­fied by her nick­name Umm Ahmed for fear of re­tal­i­a­tion.

As­so­ci­ated Press video from the neigh­bor­hood showed dozens of de­stroyed build­ings along sev­eral streets. New York-based Hu­man Rights Watch doc­u­mented at least 100 homes de­mol­ished there on Oc­to­ber 23 and 24 by Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces, dis­plac­ing more than 300 fam­i­lies. Ly­ing on the south­ern edge of Kirkuk proper, in ad­di­tion to the neigh­bor­hood’s res­i­dents, the area was also host­ing mostly Sunni Arabs who fled vil­lages around Kirkuk that were over­run by IS in 2014.

“We want to ask the joint forces and the gov­ern­ment forces who de­mol­ished our houses, why they did it,” said an­other Kirkuk res­i­dent whose house was de­stroyed and iden­tity doc­u­ments con­fis­cated. He also asked to only be iden­ti­fied by a nick­name Abu Ab­dul­lah due to con­cerns for his safety.

Kirkuk Gover­nor Na­jmid­din Karim, a Kurd, has re­peat­edly de­nied in com­ments to Iraqi me­dia that forcible dis­place­ments are tak­ing place in the province. The As­so­ci­ated Press sought com­ment from Kur­dish se­cu­rity of­fi­cials and the gover­nor but re­ceived no re­sponse. But Rakan Said Al-Ji­bouri, the deputy gover­nor and head of the Arab coun­cil of Kirkuk, con­firmed the de­struc­tion. “We con­sider this wrong­ful be­hav­ior and a racist at­tack by the se­cu­rity forces and the politi­cal par­ties be­hind them,” he told the AP. He said the de­struc­tion has forced many of Kirkuk’s Arab res­i­dents to scat­ter, tak­ing refuge with rel­a­tives. The oil-rich city of Kirkuk is claimed by both Iraq’s cen­tral gov­ern­ment and the largely au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion.

IS con­trol

When IS over­ran Mo­sul and much of the north and pushed through cen­tral Iraq to­ward Bagh­dad in the sum­mer of 2014, Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces moved in and as­sumed full con­trol of Kirkuk. They said the move was to pro­tect it from IS af­ter the col­lapse of the mil­i­tary. But Kur­dish of­fi­cials have said since that they will keep the city.

The Oc­to­ber at­tack by the Is­lamic State group in Kirkuk came just a week af­ter Iraqi forces launched the op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul. In a com­plex at­tack car­ried out by at least 100 fight­ers, gun­men and sui­cide bombers tar­geted dif­fer­ent parts of Kirkuk nearly si­mul­ta­ne­ously, killing dozens. It took nearly 24 hours to sub­due them. Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials in Kirkuk warned that the at­tack demon­strated the threat IS will likely pose long af­ter Mo­sul falls. Kur­dish of­fi­cials were quick to blame Sunni Arabs dis­placed from IS-held ar­eas for the at­tack. Kur­dish au­thor­i­ties have pre­vi­ously been ac­cused of “de­lib­er­ate mass de­struc­tion “to Arab vil­lages in Iraq’s north, ac­cord­ing to a Jan­uary 2016 re­port from Amnesty In­ter­na­tional.

The Amnesty re­port cited satel­lite images to sup­port claims that Kur­dish forces bull­dozed, blew up and burned down thou­sands of homes in an ef­fort to up­root Arab com­mu­ni­ties as re­venge for their per­ceived sup­port of IS. Largely with the help of US-led coali­tion airstrikes, Kur­dish forces fight­ing IS have taken ter­ri­tory that has ex­panded their rec­og­nized au­ton­o­mous zone by 50 per­cent. Al-Ji­bouri, Kirkuk’s deputy gover­nor, said de­stroy­ing Arab vil­lages and de­mol­ish­ing homes will likely stoke ten­sions be­tween Iraq’s Kurds and Arabs in the coun­try’s north and only lead to fur­ther vi­o­lence. He said he had asked the par­lia­ment for com­pen­sa­tion for those who lost their houses but so far had not re­ceived a re­sponse. The de­struc­tion “will not serve the se­cu­rity or peace­ful co­ex­is­tence of the peo­ple of Kirkuk,” he said.

— AP

KIRKUK: Arab res­i­dents sit amid their de­stroyed home in Kirkuk’s Huzeiran neigh­bor­hood.

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