More Ethnic Violence in Kirkuk
AP reported that in the northern, mainly Arab city of Mosul, on Wednesday assailants kidnapped and killed Adel Jabar Abid Mustafa, a Baathist whom Saddam had appointed dean of the faculty of political science at Mosul University. Thursday morning his body was found; he had been killed Mafia-style, two bullets in the head. There have been a number of unsolved assassinations in Mosul lately, with some victims having been anti-Baathists and others former Baathists. This pattern suggests that underground gangs or clans are engaged in vendettas about the past.
AP said that in Kirkuk on Thursday night, armed Arabs killed one Kurd and wounded another as they strolled through an Arab quarter of the city, according to Police Chief Gen. Turhan Youssef.
Az-Zaman reported that Shirku Shakir, a high police official in Kirkuk, said that an Arab protest was held late Thursday that resulted in an exchange of fire with the police, who took one wounded Arab gunman prisoner. Shakir said another body was found in the vicinity of the protest and the shoot-out, but declined to give his ethnicity. Jalal Jawhar, local head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, said that two Arabs were killed and several wounded in this incident, according to AP.
All of these incidents follow on the Kurdish parties’ demand that Kirkuk be incorporated into an expanded Kurdish ethnic enclave in the north, which would enjoy substantial states’ rights from a loose federal government in Baghdad.
Thursday night, representatives of the Coalition Provisional Authority met with ethnic community leaders in Kirkuk and asked them to strive to reduce tension (al-Zaman).
AP also noted that ‘ At Friday prayers, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqdata al-Sadr spoke against any federal system, saying it “is meant to divide the country according to their interests.” He apparently was referring to Kurdish interests when he spoke at Kufa mosque, just outside the southern city of Najaf. ‘ The hostility to loose federalism and the devotion to a strong central government is characteristic of the major Shiite parties across the board.
Daniel Senor of the CPA dismissed the events in Kirkuk as “isolated incidents,” and said that reprisals against Baathists had been relatively few. He pointed out that thousands of Fascists had been killed in reprisals in Italy after World War II.
It is always a bad sign when political spokesmen try to schmooze journalists into thinking that anything less than 20,000 deaths is not significant. I certainly hope the press corps can see through that ploy. But in addition, Senor’s point does not even make any sense. The events in Kirkuk were not reprisals against Baathists. They were ethnic fighting over the future of the city. Historical analogies are always misleading, but if you had to compare them to something, it would to post-Soviet Eastern Europe, and the question is whether we are dealing with Bratislava, Slovakia (peaceful splitting from the Czech Republic)) or with Bosnia in spring of 1992. In the latter, a multiethnic society was subsequently torn apart.
The reason the events in Kirkuk may be significant is that something will have to be done with the city. Either it will be left as the capital of at-Tamim Province and the 250,000 Arabs transplanted to it will be allowed to stay in the homes Saddam stole from the Turkmen and Kurds to give to them; or it will, as the Kurds demand, be transferred to a new Kurdistan province that will unite in itself at-Tamim, Dahuk, Arbil, Sulaimaniya, and Diyala (Diyala is a stretch). Either decision, to leave things as they are or to change things, is going to make some part of the population fighting mad, and they all have guns (a lot of them seem to have rocket propelled grenades).
So the fact that there haven’t been large scale reprisals against the Arabs in Kirkuk is certainly positive, but the fact is that Kurds have been streaming back into the city and it is early days. That ethnic conflict came to a low boil as soon as the Kurds so much as mentioned their plan to annex Kirkuk is a very bad sign for the future Iraqi government’s stability (the CPA will carefully avoid taking a decision before July 1, so as not to risk provoking major violence on its watch). Though, since the US plans to have an embassy in Baghdad with 3,000 personnel, even decisions of the new Iraqi government will in a way be on its watch.