Kurdish Settlement in Kirkuk and Geopolitics
Jim Krane of AP has an excellent piece today on the demographic struggle taking place in Kirkuk, Iraqi’s northern oil city of some 750,000. In April of 2003 one reporter estimated that the population was 250,000 each, Turkmen, Arab and Kurd. The Arabs were settled there by Saddam and are disproportionately Shiites from the South. The Turkmen are mixed, but include a strong Shiite contingent, many of whom have given up the Turkmen folk Shiism in favor of the urban, clerical religion common among the Arabs of the south. Kirkuk is therefore one stronghold of the Sadr Movement, but the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq also has supporters there. My guess is that it was about half Shiite.
The Kurds are largely Sunni. They had come to predominate in the city in the 1960s and 1970s, but then Saddam deported a lot of them and brought in the Arabs.
Krane cites estimates that 72,000 Kurds have come into Kirkuk during the past 17 months, and 50,000 Arabs have fled back south. If the original estimates were true, then there would now be more like 320,000 Kurds and 200,000 Arabs in this city of 750,000, with Turkmen (who had dominated earlier in the 20th century) also adding small numbers of reimmigrants to their 250,000. Recently, as many as 500 Kurds a day have been coming to the city. That is, another 15,000 could be added by the time the quick and dirty census planned for October is carried out. That census in turn will be the basis for proportional representation in the planned January elections.
Turkmen and Arabs are afraid that the Kurds are using this demographic movement to engorge Kirkuk and ensure that it is added to the Kurdish super-province they are planning, which in turn would be at least semi-autonomous from Baghdad. When Kurdish leaders announced that they wanted Kirkuk in their proposed Kurdistan late last December, it provoked riots and gunplay between Kurds on the one hand and Turkmen and Arabs on the other. Much of the petroleum is in the north
Turkmen appear to be suspicious that the recent US assault on dissidents in the Turkmen city of Tal Afar was in part provoked by Kurdish misinformation and was aimed at reducing the autonomy of the Turkmen, who are the main opposition to the formation of the Kurdish super-province.
Political reporters who only pay attention to Barzani, Talabani and Allawi are missing this big story, which Krane has intelligently laid out. The struggle is social.