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Kirkuk: Voices from a divided city

An Iraqi police and US soldier guard a bomb site in Kirkuk, 2004

Iraqi lawmakers have been in deadlock over laws covering nationwide elections in January, with one of the thorniest issues being the vote in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.

Control of the city is contested between ethnic Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, which has been complicated by major demographic changes under Saddam Hussein's "Arabisation" programme and a large influx of Kurdish since the fall of the regime.

Here, Kirkukis from different ethnic backgrounds share their thoughts on the city's political future.

ARAB: ABU ALI AL-BAYATI, 25, DOCTOR

Kirkuk is not for anyone to claim, it's the land of all Iraqis, whether they are Arab, Kurd or Turkmen.

We cannot give the vote to Kurds who have recently come to this city from other parts of Iraq

The same argument goes for the oil and all the natural resources of the region. It should not be monopolised by any group.

I realise some Kurds want the city to be part of Iraqi Kurdistan. But any attempts to separate Kirkuk from the rest of Iraq will only lead to clashes between the different ethnic groups.

People here are trying to get on with their lives but tensions are being heightened by the rhetoric of different ethnic factions who are stalling the elections.

There will be major problems if the elections go ahead in Iraq's 18 provinces but not Kirkuk. This may become a flashpoint of future violence.

I would participate in the elections but only with the "open" lists.

We cannot give the vote to Kurds who have recently come to this city from other parts of Iraq or neighbouring countries. That movement of people has affected the ethnic make-up of the region and will impact on the election.

But I do not mind the participation of those Kurds who left during Saddam's rule and are now returning.

KURD: HAWAR, 60, KIRKUK

According to the Iraqi constitution each person will have one vote in the upcoming elections. So it is important that all Kirkukis have the right to elect our own representatives to the parliament.

Map of Iraq
The ultimate future of this city must be decided by the people in a referendum

There must also be a reversal of the Saddam-era Arabisation of the area - as outlined in the constitution. It is only a handful of Turkmen and pro-Saddam Arabs that do not want this to take place.

The ultimate future of this city must be decided by the people in a referendum.

If people want Kirkuk to return to Kurdistan then I will support it. If the majority want it to stay under the authority of Baghdad, or become a separate federal entity then I would support that as well.

Some people think Kurds want Kirkuk just because of its oil. This is not true. Today oil is being found at a rapid rate across Kurdistan. This city has always been part of Kurdistan - this is shown on Ottoman maps.

There is tension, but it is between political parties not ordinary people. Any anger between ordinary people is limited and based on racist perceptions.

I have Arab and Turkmen friends who I have known since Saddam's reign. Today we invite one another to our houses and spend time together.

TURKMAN: NERMEEN AL-MUFTI, 49, JOURNALIST

Nermeen al-Mufti
Nermeen says Kirkuk should remain an Iraqi city

There can be no stability in the area, the country and the wider region as long as the Kurds claim Kirkuk for their own. I am not against an autonomous Kurdish region, but I do not think it should cover this city.

Kirkuk should have a special status and should remain an Iraqi city. The various ethnic groups must be protected.

For hundreds of years different groups lived here side by side. I have friends of other backgrounds. There has been years of inter-marriage.

There has been a fabricated division between people since the Saddam-era Arabisation of the area. The problem today is not between the various ethnic groups who have always been here, but between the general population and the Kurds who have recently settled here.

There have been too many Kurds coming to this area in recent years. It is unfair to allow them all to vote in the election as this may tip the balance away from the other communities.

Power in the city should be shared between the various ethnic groups. The temporary power-sharing agreement between [Muslim] Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians should continue.



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