In a quiet mass migration, Arabs are fleeing their villages in northern Iraq and Kurds are moving back in, reversing Saddam Hussein's campaigns of ethnic cleansing and effectively redrawing the demographic map.
Kurds are insisting on retaining -- or expanding -- the system of self-rule they enjoyed under U.S. protection after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War. Kurdish militiamen, known as peshmerga, fought alongside U.S. soldiers last year and now expect a political payoff for that support.
Who can blame them for wanting autonomy?
The Global IDP Project of the Norwegian Refugee Council tracks internal displacement of populations due to wars and other causes and has published a report claiming that
The collapse of the regime of Saddam Hussein following the US-led war in Iraq in March 2003 created the political conditions for the 800,000 Kurds who had been forcibly displaced under a brutal policy of "Arabisation" to return to their homes. But the beginning of these return movements has also caused a new wave of displacement. As several thousand Kurds began to reclaim their homes in the north of Iraq, about 100,000 Arabs who had been installed there by the previous regime fled in the months following the war.
From the mid-1970s, much of this resulted from the Iraqi authorities' campaigns in the north of the country to neutralise Kurdish aspirations for independence and to strengthen control over some of the world's largest oil-reserves. These campaigns involved the violent, large-scale and systematic alteration of the ethnic composition of the northern region where forced displacements of one group went hand in hand with the settlement of another. The Iraqi authorities destroyed up to 4,000 Kurdish villages and caused the displacements of around 800,000 Kurds. Arabs, mainly Shi'a families from central and southern Iraq, were brought in to replace the Kurds, as part of a wider "Arabisation" of the region. Non-ethnic Arab Iraqis, mostly Kurds, but also Turkmen and Assyrians were forced to either leave the oil-rich areas or to sign a form "correcting their nationality" so as to be considered as ethnic Arabs. To increase the number of Arabs in the region, incentives, such as free land and free houses which had mostly belonged to the evicted Kurds, were offered by the Baghdad regime (RI, 21 November 2003; CHR, 26 February 1999).
The end of the Iraq-Iran war in 1988 saw the intensification of the atrocities committed against the Kurds. In the course of a campaign code-named Al-Anfal, the authorities committed mass executions, poisoned entire villages with noxious gas and imposed economic blockades on others. The Al-Anfal campaign left more than 180,000 people missing, who are now presumed dead (Alliance International pour la Justice, December 2002). Most survivors were relocated into settlements or "collective towns" controlled by the army where they became dependent on the Iraqi authorities for food, water and other basic services (Fawcett and Tanner, October 2002, pp. 8-10).
With 180,000 killed and 800,000 displaced they have strong reasons to want their houses, apartments, and farm lands back.
Global IDP's Iraq country page has more reports on internal displacements in Iraq.
Arild Birkenes, the project's analyst for Iraq, tells RFE/RL that the displacements in the north of that country are reversing what once were deliberate programs during the Hussein era and earlier to give the oil-rich areas an Arab majority: "The current displacements are a direct effect of previous displacements and evictions. What is happening now is exactly what Saddam Hussein's regime was trying to do but the other way around."
Many of the Kurdish refugees fled to Kurdish-administered parts of northern Iraq that fell out of Baghdad's control after the 1991 Gulf War. Some 30,000 of those Kurds are reported to have returned home again since Hussein's regime was toppled in April.
If a mere 30,000 Kurds out of the 800,000 original displaced Kurds can return and cause the displacement of 100,000 Arabs then as more of those 800,000 Kurds try to return home there will be a great deal more displacement of Arabs by Kurds which will happen in the future.
Birkenes says Arabs and members of Iraq's Turkoman minority accuse the Kurdish administration of encouraging refugees to return in a deliberate effort to ensure non-Kurdish groups will be outnumbered in the event of a referendum on the future status of the city and the Kurdish region: "The Turkomans and the Arabs in Kirkuk, especially, and also in some of the other governates controlled by the [U.S.-led] coalition and the Governing Council in Baghdad, [say] that the Kurdish regional government is trying to increase its influence in the same way as Saddam Hussein's regime tried during the 1970s, 80s and 90s."
The two main Kurdish factions, whose forces entered Kirkuk as Hussein's forces retreated early last year, now say they control security in the city. Their united Kurdish administration has denied any charges of forcing out Arabs or other groups.
The Kurdish administration says it provides only humanitarian aid to returning Kurdish refugees -- many of whose homes are now occupied by Arab settlers.
But Kurdish leaders also maintain that Kirkuk is a Kurdish city and should be part of a Kurdish region in a new federal Iraq. Some 2,000 Turkomans and Arabs demonstrated in Kirkuk in late December against any effort to incorporate the city into an autonomous Kurdish province. Five people were reported killed in the unrest.
Note the nature of the fight. The Kurds want a Kurdish majority to democratically vote for a Kurdish administration. The non-Kurds want a non-Kurdish majority to vote for a non-Kurdish administration. Democracy can not work under such conditions. There is not enough of a shared common interest.
Birkenes says the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is now trying to stem the return of Kurds to Kirkuk in order to lower the tensions: "It seems that the CPA has a kind of two-pronged approach, meaning that they are trying to physically prevent Kurds from entering into Kirkuk and, at the same time, are working politically with the Kurdish regional government and encouraging them not to encourage Kurdish return movements."
He says that the CPA has also requested the Kurdish regional government to stop providing humanitarian assistance until a commission can be formed to mediate property disputes between returning refugees and settlers.
The new report, which was issued yesterday, says that many of the displaced Arabs are now living north of Baghdad in "abandoned army camps and public buildings, most without access to health services, electricity or running water."
The CPA ought instead to focus on creating housing for the displaced Arabs. For the displaced Arabs that are Shias then the housing should be created south of Baghdad. For the Arabs are that Sunnis the housing should be created north of Baghdad. Keep the incompatible groups away from each other.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The bloody suicide attacks against the major U.S.-backed Kurdish parties are likely to suppress Kurdish factionalism - at least in the short term - and stiffen the Kurds' resolve for a strong degree of self-rule within a federal Iraq.
That is unlikely to go down well among the country's majority Arab community or among the Turkomen, an ethnic group related to the Turks who like the Arabs fear Kurdish domination.
The Kurds have no reason to trust the Arabs. Why should different ethnic groups which speak different languages and who view each other which such warranted distrust and animosity be put together in the same country? See my pevious argument for the partition of Iraq and the arguments of others in favor of partition of Iraq.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2004 February 25 07:41 PM Mideast Iraq Ethnic Cleansing|