Friday, October 21, 2011

Arguments In Iraq’s Kirkuk Continue

For the past several months, Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen in Tamim province and the city of Kirkuk have been caught up in an endless series of arguments and accusations. This has continued into October. In recent days there was a demonstration by Turkmen, and another by Arabs.

On October 11, 2011, it was reported that Turkmen gathered in Kirkuk demanding their land back. The demonstrators claimed that Saddam Hussein had confiscated thousands of acres of their property. They did not want compensation, but the return of their land. Tamim’s provincial council said that it has 45,000 disputed land cases on file. Under the former regime, Turkmen, like the Kurds, were displaced by Saddam’s Arabization program. In their place, thousands of Arabs, many from southern Iraq, were moved in to solidify the central government’s control over this important oil rich area. Just like the Kurds as well, many Turkmen also returned to the province after the 2003 invasion, making claims against their losses. In 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority created the Iraq Property Claims Commission to deal with these disputes, but it had no settlement process. That made it ineffective from the beginning. The Turkmen therefore have no real way to settle his dispute.

On October 13, Arabs held their own march in Kirkuk. This was about demanding the Kurdish peshmerga to withdraw from the city. An Arab politician claimed that these forces discriminated against them, that Kurds were forcing out Arabs and Turkmen to be replaced by their own people, and were taking Arab land. He called for the Iraqi army and police to take control of the city’s security in the place of the peshmerga. This is a complaint that Arabs have often made since 2003. After the overthrow of Saddam, thousands of Kurds returned to the province, many of which were encouraged to do so by Kurdish authorities in an attempt to reclaim Kirkuk and annex it. Kurdish officials also encouraged Arabs to leave, calling them usurpers. Many Arabs ended up fleeing Tamim in response. Since then, they have considered the Kurdish presence, especially their security forces as a direct threat. That has led to complaints like those voiced in the demonstration that the Arabs are losing out to the Kurds in the governorate.

The demographics of Tamim have been dramatically changed over the last fifty years. First, the Baath Party forced out Kurds and Turkmen to move in Arabs to assert its authority over the province. Then after 2003 those circumstances were reversed when Kurds and Turkmen returned, and Arabs began to leave. That has created the current situation where every major party feels like it has a grievance. The recent protests were only the latest manifestation of these on going disputes, which will not end any time soon since no one is working to resolve them.

For more on recent events in Kirkuk see:

Tensions Rise In Iraq's Kirkuk Between Arabs, Kurds, And Turkmen
Tensions In And Around Iraq's Kirkuk Ebb And Flow
Tensions Rise In Iraq's Kirkuk Over Protests And The Peshmerga

Alsumaria, “Iraq Turkmen in Kirkuk call to reclaim their lands,” 10/11/11

Al-Ani, Marwan, “Anti-Kurdish protests reported in Iraq’s Kirkuk,” Azzaman, 10/13/11

Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Impending Inter-Ethnic Violence in Kirkuk,” 3/27/03
- “Iraq: In Kurdistan, Land Disputes Fuel Unrest,” 8/2/04

International Crisis Group, “Iraq: Allaying Turkey’s Fears Over Kurdish Ambitions,” 1/26/05

Mite, Valentinas, “Turkomans Say Kirkuk’s Growing Kurdish Population A Threat,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 11/13/03

Packer, George, “The Next Iraqi War?” New Yorker, 10/4/04


Steve Donnelly, AICP said...


There are two issues here.

The first is land records. Iraq actually does have land records system, and, without too much effort, the land record system needs to be tracked, along with rules and process, to actually establish a title record. Once that is done, many parts can be deconstructed for further analysis: Who is the record owner? How did they come into possession? Was it a "fair trade?"

The next issue is changing demographics. Bear in mind that while Turkman populations in Iraq have been fairly stable in Iraq (even if moved from place to place), Kurdish populations have not. Some were, for example forced to choose Iraq based on anti- Kurdish pressures from Syria and Turkey. Some Kurds fled, or were forced out of areas of Iraq (and into exile, including into Iran). Tracking these changes in any particular area produces complex patterns, even on first cut. Towns demolished, new towns, forced exiles, war refugees/exiles (internal and external from several war pulses).

The point of all this is that many different people have legitimate claims to the same pieces of land. In my opinion, national and/or regional government has a role in creating process (and perhaps providing funds to unscramble/compensate individuals), but these complex issues must be resolved in each area---town by town, and property by property.

It will take a long time (as did post WWII war reparations/restitutions, but restarting a serious process would do a lot to heal (or at least put to rest) many internal rifts and conflicts.

The good news, from my experience, is that there is a lot of historical information available for those willing to pursue it.

Joel Wing said...

Steve, from my understanding there are some local officials in Kirkuk that would actually like to move forward on many of these subjects, but the national parties refuse to do anything but pass the buck. Kirkuk hasn't even had provincial elections since 2005.

Steve Donnelly, AICP said...

Right, but, like the US, Iraq is not a static country. The national front has much on its plate, as does the KRG.

This is an important one to get underway, but with the reality that it is a long process to completion, but the pressure and priorities must come from Iraqis, amongst many competing priorities.

Individuals certainly should wish it was not so complex, but, regrettably, post-conflict land re-patriation is not easy, nor is the national or governmental will. Plus, without an effective funding commitment for compensation, it is very much a "Zero Sum" game where one can only win if another looses.

This is just one of those many areas which I wish the US had understood early on, and taken actions to help the Iraqis with (Afghanistan, too). Wars move people and properties around---they are sometimes a result of war, and sometimes an underlying cause---but they are always a basic part.

Now, regrettably, it is unfinished business for the Iraqis to stack on a "to-do-list" that is not inconsequential.

Steve Donnelly, AICP said...


The US has far more information than it knows it has that could be very helpful to the task, but it is, like Indiana Jones' search for the Lost Ark, probably just sitting in a warehouse or on a hard drive unread.

The level of priority in the US, too, does not exist for a task that the US, post-conflict, could, in fact, be very helpful to. But.....

Steve Donnelly, AICP said...


The US spends a fortune on military and foreign service training and education---but not one basic course in routine Public Administration---How a country actually functions.

From inceptions of these long wars and throughout, it was all about teacups and soup knives, and huge Projects, with little understanding of what was going on underneath.

Joel Wing said...

I just think the stalemate at the national level means stalemate in Kirkuk currently. If one party were to act and change the status quo, it would anger the other groups in the province and the politicians in Baghdad. Plus I think the Arabs and Turkmen there are pretty much convinced that if anything like Article 140 were ever implemented the Kurds would come out on top, and therefore don't want to do anything substantive at all.

Steve Donnelly, AICP said...

We are back to that previous question: Which Kirkuk?

At the provincial level, under the current provincial boundaries, you still have areas like Hawija which are substantially Arab, and under more historical definitions, places like Tuz Khormatu with truly deep Turkman lineages.

All of these among people who are not as easily defined as one thing or another, including, for example, the Feehly Kurds (Shia), and longer histories of intermarriage and periods of successful co-existence.

There is just not a binary decision (one thing or another) that, without broader acceptances, assurances and resolutions for the many peoples at issue, does not simply pose the potential to trigger more, or new, problems. It is just not as easy as 51% percent majority rules, or rules for everywhere in Kirkuk province.

The US, for example, has thrived under a system of representative government, but with substantial checks and balances (the courts and land/property rights, for example) that keep that assure basic rights and protections for all,sometimes as with civil rights, by long and continuing struggles.

If this were easy, it would have been done a long time ago.

Adding the background issues of oil, national identity, and fear of foreign influence (including by Iran), just makes it that much more difficult for all Iraqis.

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