Baghdad schemes to reolocate Arabs

Iraq's government has endorsed plans to relocate thousands of Arabs who were moved to Kirkuk as part of Saddam Hussein's campaign to force Kurds out of the oil-rich city.

Baghdad schemes to reolocate Arabs

Iraq'sgovernment has endorsed plans to relocate thousands of Arabs who were moved to Kirkuk as part of SaddamHussein's campaign to force Kurds out of the oil-rich city.

Iraq's government hasendorsed plans to relocate thousands of Arabs who were moved to Kirkuk as part of Saddam Hussein's campaign to force Kurdsout of the oil-rich city, a move that is likely to raise concerns in Ankara, which fearschanges in demographic composition of the disputed city in favor of Kurds couldlead to clashes. The contentious decision on Kirkukwas confirmed on Saturday by Iraq'sSunni justice minister as he told The Associated Press that he was resigning.Almost immediately, opposition politicians said they feared it would harden theviolent divisions among Iraq'sfractious ethnic and religious groups and possibly lead to an Iraq dividedamong Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiites.

Turkey has repeatedlyexpressed concern over an ongoing influx of Kurds from other parts of Iraq into the city of Kirkuk, saying this is a systematic attemptto change the demographic composition of the city ahead of a referendum onstatus of the city slated for end of 2007. Ankarasays Kirkuk,which sits atop 6 percent of the world's known oil reserves, should have aspecial status preserving its multicultural structure. 

 Last week Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, told PrimeMinister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan that Turkeycould send a delegation to Kirkukto see the situation on the ground. Erdoðan has welcomed the offer and saidthat Turkeywould consider dispatching a delegation.

The ancient city of Kirkuk has a largeminority of Turkmens, who share close ethnic ties with Turkey, as wellas Christians, Shiite and Sunni Arabs, Armenians and Assyrians. The city isjust south of the Kurdish autonomous zone stretching across three provinces ofnortheastern Iraq.Since Saddam's fall four years ago, thousands of Kurds who once lived in thecity have resettled there. It is believed Kurds are now a majority of thepopulation and that a referendum on attaching Kirkuk to the Kurdish autonomous zone wouldpass easily.

Justice Minister Hashim al-Shebli said the Cabinet agreed on Thursday to astudy group's recommendation that those Arabs who had moved to Kirkukfrom other parts of Iraqafter July 1968 should be returned to their original towns and paidcompensation.

 Al-Shebli, who had overseen the committee on Kirkuk's status, said that relocation wouldbe voluntary. Those who choose to leave will be paid about $15,000 and givenland in their former hometowns. "There will be no coercion and the decisionwill not be implemented by force," he told The AP.

Tens of thousands of Kurds and non-Arabs fled Kirkuk in the 1980s and 1990s when Saddam'sgovernment implemented its "Arabization" policy. Kurds and non-Arabs werereplaced with pro-government Arabs from the mainly Shiite impoverished south.

 After the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Kurds and othernon-Arabs streamed back, only to find their homes had been either sold or givento Arabs. Some of the returning Kurds found nowhere to live except in parks andabandoned government buildings. Others drove Arabs from the city, despite pleasfrom Sunni and Shiite leaders for them to stay.

There were fears that a referendum that was likely to put Kirkukunder Kurdish control could open a new front in the violence that has ravaged Iraq sinceshortly after the US-led invasion. On March 19, several bombs struck targets inKirkuk andkilled at least 26 people.

Ali al-Dabbagh, spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said al-Shebliquit before he could be fired in a coming government reshuffle. Neitheral-Dabbagh nor al-Shebli would say if the minister had resigned over the Kirkuk issue. Al-Sheblisaid local authorities in Kirkukwould begin distributing forms soon to Arab families, to determine who wouldparticipate in the relocation program. He said he could not predict how longthe process would take.

 Planning Minister Ali Baban said the relocation plan was adopteddespite the opposition of Sunni Arab members of the Shiite-led government,members of the Iraqi List and at least one Cabinet minister loyal to radicalShiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. 

 Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni lawmaker with the Iraqi List, also denouncedthe decision, saying it fails to address key issues, including how to deal withproperty claims.

"There are more than 13,000 unsolved cases before the commission in chargeof this point and it just solved no more than 250 of them," he said of theproperty claims. "The other thing is the huge demographic change in Kirkuk, as more than650,000 Kurds have been brought in illegally over the past four years. We willcontest these resolutions and we will bring the issue to the parliament to bediscussed."

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Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16