October 30, 2005


Kurds Reclaiming Prized Territory In Northern Iraq: Repatriation by Political Parties Alters Demographics and Sparks Violence (Steve Fainaru, October 30, 2005, Washington Post)

KIRKUK, Iraq -- Providing money, building materials and even schematic drawings, Kurdish political parties have repatriated thousands of Kurds into this tense northern oil city and its surrounding villages, operating outside the framework of Iraq's newly ratified constitution and sparking sporadic violence between Kurdish settlers and the Arabs who are a minority here, according to U.S. military officials and Iraqi political leaders.

The rapidly expanding settlements, composed of two-bedroom concrete houses whose dimensions are prescribed by the Kurdish parties, are effectively re-engineering the demography of northern Iraq, enabling the Kurds to add what ultimately may be hundreds of thousands of voters ahead of a planned 2007 referendum on the status of Kirkuk. The Kurds hope to make the city and its vast oil reserves part of an autonomous Kurdistan.

Kurdish political leaders said the repatriations are designed to correct the policies of ousted President Saddam Hussein, who replaced thousands of Kurds in the region with Arabs from the south. [...]

Kirkuk, a city of almost 1 million, is home to a combustible mix of multiple ethnicities, a contentious past and enormous potential wealth. Kirkuk's precise demographic makeup is a source of dispute, but Kurds are believed to represent 35 to 40 percent of the population. The remainder is composed primarily of Arabs, ethnic Turkmens and a small percentage of Assyrian Christians.

The Kurds, saying they have a historical claim, hope to anchor Kirkuk to Kurdistan, their semiautonomous region. Kirkuk holds strategic as well as symbolic value: The ocean of oil beneath its surface could be used to drive the economy of an independent Kurdistan, the ultimate goal for many Kurds.

"Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan as Washington D.C. is part of the United States," said Rizgar Ali, president of the Kirkuk provincial council and a top official in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main Kurdish political parties. The other is the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

With the Kurds firmly in control of the provincial government, Kirkuk already shows signs of a remarkable transition. The names of many streets, buildings, schools and villages have been changed from Arabic to Kurdish. Thousands of Kurds who flooded into Kirkuk after Hussein's fall are still living in a soccer stadium, a city jail and vacant lots. The landscape is replete with ubiquitous gray concrete blocks of the new Kurdish settlements.

Best to do the inevitable quickly, rather than drag it out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 30, 2005 10:04 AM

Kurds should claim the territory currently occupied by Turkey while they're at it.

How did the Kurds, who are also Muslim, turn out to be so civilized, independent and honorable and so different from the other Muslim tribes of savages from the Far East to the Near East to the Middle East and now in Europe?

Posted by: tefta at October 30, 2005 11:52 AM

Because they were oppressed, so losing to the West caused no psychic disconnect.

Posted by: oj at October 30, 2005 12:14 PM

And I betcha the folks who get all weepy when they see Palestinians rattle rings of half-century old house keys while blathering on about a "Right of Return" are against the Kurds reclaiming what Saddam stole from them, because it somehow upsets the stability of the region.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 30, 2005 3:15 PM

Raoul: bingo!

Posted by: Mike Morley at October 30, 2005 5:02 PM


Well, actually, there are Kurds. And then there are Kurds. And there are Kurds. And there are Kurds.

And the four different groups don't (um) always get along with one another, let alone with their neighbors.

On the other hand, everything is relative.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at October 31, 2005 2:37 AM