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Page last updated at 00:33 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 01:33 UK

Iraq abandons nationwide census

An Iraqi man in Baghdad. Photo: August 2009
Iraq's last census - which excluded the Kurdish region - was in 1997

Iraq has postponed indefinitely plans to hold its first nationwide census in 22 years over fears it could stoke ethnic and political tensions.

The population count in October would have settled arguments over the relative size of Iraq's religious and ethnic communities.

But the planning minister said it could also stir up tensions in northern areas disputed between Arabs and Kurds.

The survey would also have implications for the disputed oil-rich Kirkuk area.

Iraq's last nationwide census was held in 1987. The count in 1997 - which excluded the Kurdish region - put Iraq's population at more than 26 million.

US warning

Planning Minister Ali Baban said that Iraq was "technically ready for the census".

map

"But hearing the fears, concerns and reservations of political groups in Kirkuk and [the northern province of] Nineveh, we decided to slow down the process and the census has been postponed indefinitely," Mr Baban said.

Ethnic Kurds claim the northern city of Kirkuk and its resource-rich surrounds as their ancestral capital and want them to be incorporated into their enclave.

The move is fiercely opposed by the city's Turkmen and Arab population.

Kurds have also claimed some areas in the Nineveh province.

After decades of repression under Saddam Hussein, Iraq's majority Shias rose to power in 2003 after the US-led invasion.

Much of the insurgency in the following years was led by the once-dominant Sunnis.

But the feud has ebbed in recent months, and US officials now warn that the disagreements between Arabs and Kurds over territory and oil resources are today the biggest threat to security in Iraq.



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