Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Talabani criticized for designating Kirkuk “Jerusalem of Kurdistan”

Kirkuk, March 9 (AKnews) – The President of Iraq Jalal Talabani has been criticized for describing oil-rich Kirkuk as the "Jerusalem of Kurdistan" by the province's Arabs and Turkmen who have demanded explanations from the president for his remark.

Talabani was addressing a rally of supporters of his party – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah on March 7 during the 20th anniversary of a poplar uprising in the city against the former Iraqi regime in 1991 when he likened Kirkuk to Jerusalem. The 1991 uprisings of the people of Kurdistan resulted in the current semi-autonomy of the region.

"We must not forget that there are areas reunited with the (Kurdistan) region such as Kirkuk, the Jerusalem of Kurdistan," Talabani said in his address, "we need a common struggle".

Talabani also said he defended democracy, freedom and the demands of the people, but also urged the people to express their demands peacefully.

Sulaimaniyah has been the scene of protests since February 17 where people have been calling for improved services, social justice, employment opportunities and the elimination of administrative corruption. Kirkuk also witnessed violent protests, mostly in the Arab populated areas, where government buildings and police stations were set on fire.

Three police officers were killed in the clashes between the "demonstrators" and the police. Some of the demonstrators in Hawija and Riyadh towns were carrying pictures of the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

The oil-rich province of Kirkuk is one of the most disputed areas by the regional government and the Iraqi government in Baghdad. It is populated by a mixture of Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs and Christians.

The Kurds are seeking to integrate the province into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region clamming it to be historically Kurdish. The May 2010 parliamentary elections showed that the majority of the province is still Kurdish after they won more than half of the votes there by a small margin.

Talabani's remarks drew attention of the Arab media and sparked criticism from the Arabs and Turkmen of Kirkuk who said Talabani, as president of Iraq, should not have said that and demanded an explanation.

"What we heard from Talabani about Kirkuk being the heart or Jerusalem of Kurdistan should be reconsidered," said an Arab member of the Kirkuk provincial council, Mohammed Khalil al-Jubouri " president of the country; he should be impartial."

"It is better for him to say Kirkuk is an Iraqi province for all Iraqis".

Turkman provincial council member Tahsin Kahiya was also critical of Talabani's statement.

"The statement carries the meaning that Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan, this is not new to the political reality of Iraq, but Kirkuk … has a special status, and the issue has not been resolved yet" he said.

"I think we have constitutional institutions and democratic mechanisms we can turn to in deciding the future of the city" Kahiya continued, "these comments do not change anything of the reality of Kirkuk, but suggest that it is a Kurdish project."

Parizad Sha'ban, a member of the Kurdistan Alliance list in the Iraqi parliament said however that Talabani spoke to the crowd as the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – Talibani's party which enjoys popularity in Sulaimaniyah city.

"Talabani did not speak as the president of Iraq" said Sha'ban, "yet the Arab media criticize him and describe his comments as unconstitutional."

The solution to the issue of Kirkuk and other disputed areas is outlined in the Iraqi constitution's article 140; however, the article has not been implemented though it was scheduled to be implemented by the end of 2007.

Article 140 outlines a three-stage process to resolving the disputes over areas contested by the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad.

The process involves a period of normalization – whereby the security environment is stabilized – followed by the restoration of the original demographic balance (which was altered by the former Iraqi regime, often at the expense of indigenous Kurds), and culminates in a referendum, which will enable local people to decide the constitutional status of these areas.

"The decades of struggle by the Kurdish people and its revolutions have all been for the sake of the restoration of the [isolated] areas including Kirkuk which is referred to as the heart and Jerusalem of Kurdistan", Sha'ban said.

"Since the September 1961 revolution led by Barzani (father of the current president of Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani) till now the Kurd shave struggled and sacrificed for this cause".

Raber Younis Aziz (AKnews)

AKnews reporters Bryar Mohammed and Anmar al-Ansari contributed to this story

Wednesday, March 9th 2011 3:14 PM

Deported Iraqi refugees expected to land in Baghdad

Erbil, March 9 (AKnews) – A plane carrying 25 refugees, predominantly Kurds, deported from Britain, is expected to land at Baghdad International Airport this afternoon.

The secretary of the Iraqi refugees Federation Amanj Abdullah said that the refugees, forcibly sent back to Iraq were put on a plane in Britain this morning.

Refugee groups in Kurdistan and Iraq have strongly opposed the forced deportations of Iraqi refugees. Abdullah said that a campaign will be launched in Switzerland on March 16 and 17 to press EU countries not to deport Iraqi refugees.

"We call on the Iraqi government to annual a protocol it signed with the European countries about the deportation of the refugees" said Abdullah referring to an alleged agreement between the Iraqi government and the EU countries whereby the EU countries drop Iraq's debts owing to them and in return they send back the Iraqi refugees.

The regional and Iraqi governments reject such allegations.

Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland started in 2005 the forced deportation of Kurdish refugees back to Kurdistan via Baghdad.

Thousands of Kurdish refugees in EU countries are expected to be deported because the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan is seen by many of those countries as a safe and prosperous region.

Abdullah warned of the "danger" of the deportations and called on the regional government to mount pressure on the Iraqi government to take action.

"If this deportation continues, some 50,000 to 60,000 refugees will be sent back to Iraq which represents an army of unemployed that can create problems for the regional as well as the Iraqi government."

Over the past five years, some 5,500 Iraqi refugees, most of them Kurds, have been deported to Iraq. The Kurdistan Regional government showed reluctance to receive the deported refugees through the region's airports, but the deportations continue as Baghdad receives the refugees via Baghdad airport.

Mr Abdullah said the rights of the deportees are violated, apart from being sent back forcibly, they are usually handcuffed and accompanied by guards who sometimes "beat them up" and "insult" them.

In January, some 28 Iraqi refugees, most of them Kurds, who were deported from Britain arrived in a plane at Baghdad airport. Some of the refugees claimed they had been forced onto the plane and beaten up by the security officers who accompanied them.

Raber Y. Aziz (AKnews)

Dawan Hadi contributed to this story

Wednesday, March 9th 2011 1:06 PM

Kirkuk not Turkey’s business, says KRG official

March 9 (AKnews) – The Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) undersecretary to the Ministry of Peshmarga Affairs said Kirkuk is an internal issue and not Turkey's business following the deployment of forces in the disputed city in late February.

Mr Jabbar Yawar's statement comes after the Turkish media reported that Turkey wanted the Peshmarga forces to withdraw from the oil-rich province where "demonstrators" carrying former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein attacked government buildings and set a police station on fire.

The government buildings and police stations in Hawija and Riyadh towns in Kirkuk were set on fire and three police officers were killed in armed clashes on February 25.

Following the violence in the province, the KRG deployed the Peshmarga forces to Kirkuk province to "protect" the ethnic Kurds and other minorities from insurgent attacks.

On Sunday, a Turkish foreign affairs delegation headed by Fereydun Sinirlioglu, deputy foreign minister, visited Kurdistan and met the regional President Massoud Barzani. The Turkish Milliyet newspaper said the subject of the meeting was Kirkuk and the deployment of the Peshmarga forces there.

The deputy Turkish Foreign Minister highlighted the concerns of Turkey's and the Turkmen community of Kirkuk and urged Barzani to pull back the forces from the city, the newspaper quotes its sources.

But Mr Yawar says "This issue is no business of the Turkish government. Legally speaking, how can the Turkish government ask the KRG (such a thing)"

Kirkuk is an internal issue and the concern of the KRG and the Iraqi government which can be discussed in talks, he said, "there is an agreement between the Iraqi government, the Kurdistan Region and the US forces regarding the stationing of those forces in the disputed areas"

A spokeswoman for the al-Iraqiya list led by former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi which represents the Iraq's Sunni majority including the Arabs and Turkmen of Kirkuk described the deployment of those forces to Kirkuk as "normal" but criticized their mobilization without an order from the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"…the mobilization of those forces without an order from Maliki is illegal because he is the commander in chief of the armed forces in Iraq," Maysun al-Damluji told AKnews.
According to the Iraqi constitution, the Peshmarga forces are part of the Iraqi defense system.

Kirkuk is an ethnically diverse city where Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Christians live. The history of the tensions between the ethnic groups stems from the former Iraqi government's "Arabization" policies to expel the Kurds and Turkmen of the province in order to resettle Arab families there instead to control the natural wealth of the province, in particular its vast oil reserves.

But after the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein, many of those families have returned to Kirkuk to reclaim their properties and resettle there.

The Kurds now form the majority in the province after they won more than half the votes of the province in the May 7 general election in 2010 by a small margin.

Historically, the province was majority Kurdish. According to a poll conducted in 1957, the figures were: 178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turkmens, 43,000 Arabs and 10,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christians.

The Arabs and Turkmen of Kirkuk doubt the good intentions of the Peshmarga forces to protect civilians from insurgents. They believe those forces are there for a political purpose.

The claim was rejected by Yawar. "There is not political goal behind the presence of the Peshmarga forces in the disputed areas," he said.

Raber Younis Aziz (AKnews)
AKnews reporters Hazhar Mohammed and Idris Abubakir contributed to this story

Wednesday, March 9th 2011 10:56 AM