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Arabs In N Iraq Fear Ethnic Cleansing After Election

by Aaron Glantz

to series on Kurdistan and Iraq election

(IPS) ARBIL -- Tensions in the northern Iraqi city Kirkuk have reached breaking point after Arab parties announced they will boycott the election Jan. 30.

The boycott is potentially explosive. The Arab population of Kirkuk was settled there largely as a move by the Saddam regime to dilute the Kurdish strength in this oil-rich region. Kirkuk now has a substantial population of Kurds, Arabs and Turkomens (northern Iraqis of Turkish descent).

Since the fall of the Saddam regime many Kurds driven out by the Saddam regime have begun to return amidst growing demands that Kirkuk must be restored to Kurds. Election campaigning has seen Kurdish parties join forces in a single Kurdish front. The Arab boycott now points to difficult times ahead in Kirkuk, and beyond that for Iraq.

In the face of demands by Kurdish political parties that Arabs leave Kirkuk, Arab parties in the city say Kurds are now attempting their own ethnic cleansing campaign.

"The decision to withdraw came after the Iraq Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) allowed the displaced Kurds to register to vote," head of the Arab electoral list of candidates Wasify al-Assy told AFP earlier. "That was coupled with the security tensions in Diyala, Tikrit, Mosul and some parts of the Kirkuk."

The boycott by the Arab population was a long-awaited fallout of the Jan. 16 decision by the Iraqi government to permit Kurds expelled from the city under Saddam Hussein to vote from Kirkuk.

But while the withdrawal of Arabs from the polls in Kirkuk appears to assure Kurds of victory at the ballot box, it opens the door to more violent confrontation afterwards. Kurdish politicians maintain that the interim constitution signed last year demands most Arabs leave Kirkuk.

Amid these tensions it was not surprising that several polling centers came under attack across Northern Iraq earlier this week.

Kurds in the north are organising to vote despite the violence and the heavy security measures. Kurdish parties are doing all they can to encourage participation in the hope that the oil-rich city will eventually be included in what will be at least a Kurdish autonomous region.

"Kirkuk is our land, our grandfathers' land, so we regard it as our home and our place, so we will go there," said 55-year-old Khatun Saleh Sayyid, a resident of the Benslawa refugee camp near the northern city Arbil. About 55,000 Kurdish refugees live here -- many of who were forced to leave Kirkuk. Khatun says 26 of her relatives were murdered during Saddam's campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Before the road to Kirkuk is closed, the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party planned to carry her family and others in a convoy to Kirkuk to vote. "We have to follow the orders of the high ranking officials in the KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party)," she said. "The government has reserved some buses for us to take us there and bring us back."

In the days around the election, much of what passes for daily life around Iraq will come under tight control. Mobile and satellite telephone networks will be blocked. Curfews will be enforced. Iraq's borders will be shut -- and transportation inside the country will be limited.

"The federal government of Iraq in Baghdad will be cutting all the roads from one governorate to another," says Tariq Gardi from the ministry of interior in the Kurdistan regional government. "I think it's a very good and necessary thing to stop the terrorists."

As if to prove his point about danger from terrorists, a truck bomb exploded near the offices of a major Kurdish party in the northwestern Iraqi town Sinjar Wednesday night, reportedly killing at least 15 people and wounding 30.

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Albion Monitor January 27, 2005 (

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