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Ethnic Tensions Rising in Kirkuk
City’s ethnic and religious groups are warning of creeping sectarianism.
By Samah Samad in Kirkuk (ICR No.162, 1-Feb-06)
Marwa As’ad, a Turkoman resident of Kirkuk, is heartbroken. She had been planning to marry a local Kurdish man but her family broke off the engagement after her brother was carjacked by a Kurd.
She believes rising tensions among different ethnic and religious groups in Kirkuk contributed to her break-up. Like many others interviewed in this ethnically and religiously diverse city, As’ad said the atmosphere has deteriorated since Saddam Hussein's regime was overthrown in April 2003.
The province of Kirkuk - home to about a million Turkoman, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians - is sometimes referred to as a little Iraq or as Iraq's melting pot, but some believe the area, in particular the city of Kirkuk, is a powder keg waiting to explode.
The situation has worsened since Iraq changed from a one-party dictatorship under Saddam's Ba'athist regime, maintain local leaders and residents. Political parties in Kirkuk, most of which represent ethnic or religious groups, are battling for control of the city and its surroundings.
While there are no reliable statistics on the ethnic and religious make-up of the province, Kurds are believed to be the largest ethnic group. Indeed, Kurdish slates won five of Kirkuk's nine parliamentary seats in the December elections, and they hold the most seats on the provincial council.
Saddam had tried to reduce the Kurdish majority in the area by moving significant numbers out of Kirkuk city and replacing them with mainly poor Arabs from the south.
But now Kurds are fighting to bring Kirkuk city back under Kurdish political control. The move isn't popular among its other communities who effectively control certain neighbourhoods, which are adorned with often-confrontational flags and banners.
"You see many provocative slogans such as 'Long live Turkoman;
'Long live Mam Jalal' (a reference to Iraqi president and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani); or 'Kirkuk is an integral part of Kurdistan'," said Omar Muhammad, a 29-year-old Arab resident.
Muhammad said the problem grew worse during parliamentary elections, and that political parties have fuelled sectarianism.
On January 29, several car bombs went off near churches in Kirkuk, killing one person.
Silvana Buya Nassir, a Chaeldan Assyrian, said Christians were concerned about safety prior to the bombings.
"We used to hold evening ceremonies to pay tribute to Christ, but because of the deteriorating security situation and violence against our group, we have to do it during the day," she said.