Iraq Pre­pares to Re­set­tle Arabs Sent to Kirkuk by Hus­sein Edict

The Washington Post Sunday - - World News - By Karin Brul­liard

BAGH­DAD, March 31 — The Iraqi gov­ern­ment will soon be­gin re­lo­cat­ing Arabs who were moved to Kirkuk un­der an edict by Sad­dam Hus­sein to force Kurds out of the dis­puted north­ern city, of­fi­cials said Satur­day.

The con­tro­ver­sial step for the oil-rich city could help de­ter­mine whether it be­comes part of an au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion, but crit­ics warned that it would stoke sec­tar­ian ten­sions.

Iraq’s cabi­net on Thurs­day en­dorsed a com­mit­tee’s re­cent rec­om­men­da­tion to com­pen­sate el­i­gi­ble Arabs who vol­un­tar­ily leave the city, said Sadiq al-Rik­abi, a po­lit­i­cal ad­viser to Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki. Those who choose to move will re­ceive about $15,000 and a plot of land in their home town. Of­fi­cials will soon ac­cept ap­pli­ca­tions to de­ter­mine el­i­gi­bil­ity, he said.

“This can, in a hu­man­i­tar­ian frame­work, fix the mis­takes of the pre­vi­ous regime,” said Raz­gar Ali, a Kurd and the leader of Kirkuk’s city coun­cil.

The fu­ture of one of Iraq’s largest cities and its vast oil re­serves has long been a di­vi­sive is­sue across the coun­try. Kurds hope to make Kirkuk — whose pop­u­la­tion in­cludes Arabs, Kurds and eth­nic Turk­mens — part of an au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion, which Iraqi Arabs fear would lead to a par­ti­tion­ing of the na­tion.

The gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion on re­lo­ca­tion, crit­ics said, could en­able Kurds to ce­ment their vot­ing power ahead of a city­wide ref­er­en­dum on whether to join an au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion.

Un­der Hus­sein, tens of thou­sands of Kurds were forcibly re­moved from Kirkuk and re­placed by Arabs — mostly Shi­ites from south­ern Iraq — as the pres­i­dent sought to so­lid­ify his power in the city.

Af­ter Hus­sein was ousted in 2003, thou­sands of Kurds flooded back to the city but found their homes oc­cu­pied by Arabs. The in­flux has strength­ened Kur­dish in­flu­ence in the city and ag­gra­vated eth­nic ten­sions.

Iraq’s con­sti­tu­tion calls for a ref­er­en­dum on the fu­ture of Kirkuk by the end of this year, but only if the Iraqi gov­ern­ment has moved on re­lo­cat­ing Arab set­tlers and repa­tri­at­ing for­mer Kur­dish res­i­dents. The gov­ern­ment’s en­dorse­ment of the re­lo­ca­tion plan marks the be­gin­ning of that process.

The plan was ap­proved last month by a com­mit­tee over­see­ing Kirkuk’s sta­tus, prompt­ing hun­dreds of the city’s Arab res­i­dents to protest in the streets. The com­mit­tee was headed by Jus­tice Min­is­ter Hashim al-She­bli, who re­signed from his po­si­tion Thurs­day, gov­ern­ment sources said. She­bli, a Sunni Arab, told the As­so­ci­ated Press that he was hav­ing “dif­fer­ences” with the gov­ern­ment and his po­lit­i­cal bloc, the sec­u­lar Iraqi Na­tional List.

In re­cent weeks, for­mer prime min­is­ter Ayad Allawi, a sec­u­lar Shi­ite who leads the Iraqi Na­tional List, has met with Sunni Arab and Kur­dish lead­ers in an at­tempt to cre­ate a new par­lia­men­tary coali­tion that could chal­lenge the rul­ing Shi­ite re­li­gious al­liance. So far, Allawi, whose group holds 25 seats in the 275-seat par­lia­ment, has found lit­tle sup­port to pose a di­rect chal­lenge to Ma­liki.

Ab­dul Rah­man Mun­shed al-Asi, leader of the Arab ad­vi­sory coun­cil of Kirkuk, said Satur­day that many Arabs fear that the repa­tri­a­tion would be vol­un­tary in name but car­ried out with force by Kirkuk’s Kur­dish-led se­cu­rity forces.

Hos­sam Ab­dul­lah, leader of the Pa­tri­otic Turk­men Move­ment in Kirkuk, stated his op­po­si­tion more bluntly: “All the Turk­mens will be­come sui­cide bombers to de­fend the Turk­men iden­tity of Kirkuk,” he said.

Ab­dul Hos­sein Ali al-Lami, a Shi­ite Arab who moved to Kirkuk from the south­ern port city of Basra in 1981 un­der Hus­sein’s “Ara­biza­tion” pro­gram, said he shared the fear that Arabs would be forced to leave. He has put down roots in Kirkuk, he said, and his fam­ily now in­cludes Kurds and Turk­mens. His son, a po­lice­man, was killed in the line of duty in the city, he said.

“What kind of democ­racy has the right to kick me out of the land that my son sac­ri­ficed him­self for?” he said. “What kind of democ­racy will make me look to the Kurds with hate while we are the sons of one peo­ple and one na­tion?”

For­eign Min­is­ter Hosh­yar Ze­bari said the gov­ern­ment was sim­ply fol­low­ing a con­sti­tu­tion ap­proved by the peo­ple and in­sisted that re­lo­ca­tions would be vol­un­tary. Al­ready, he said, “thou­sands have agreed to go back to their orig­i­nal home­places and to be com­pen­sated by the gov­ern­ment to start their new lives.”

Mean­while, the U.S. mil­i­tary and Iraqi of­fi­cials of­fered con­flict­ing fi­nal death tolls from blood­shed this week in the north­ern city of Tall Afar, where twin truck bomb­ings in a Shi­ite neigh­bor­hood sparked reprisal killings of the Sunni mi­nor­ity near the site.

An In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman, Brig. Ab­dul Ka­reem Kha­laf, said at a news con­fer­ence that 152 peo­ple were killed in the ini­tial blasts and that 347 peo­ple were wounded, which would make it the sin­gle dead­li­est bomb­ing in Iraq since the U.S.-led in­va­sion in 2003. But a U.S. mil­i­tary com­man­der in Tall Afar said that 82 peo­ple were killed and 191 wounded.

It was un­clear whether the U.S. fig­ure in­cluded the re­tal­i­a­tion killings.

Also Satur­day, the U.S. mil­i­tary an­nounced that an Amer­i­can sol­dier died Fri­day of causes un­re­lated to bat­tle.

A car bomb ex­ploded Satur­day morn­ing in front of a hospi­tal in the vast Bagh­dad dis­trict of Sadr City, killing five peo­ple, the U.S. mil­i­tary said.

Through­out the rest of the coun­try Satur­day, bomb­ings killed 10 peo­ple and po­lice found 18 uniden­ti­fied bod­ies, the In­te­rior Min­istry re­ported. Correspondent Joshua Part­low, spe­cial correspondent Naseer Nouri and other Wash­ing­ton Post staff in Iraq con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Iraqi For­eign Min­is­ter Hosh­yar Ze­bari said “thou­sands” have agreed to join re­lo­ca­tion plan.

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