Rival protests between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq’s Kirkuk over plans to hand over a security building to local authorities led to chaos this Saturday, leaving at least three deaths.
Violent protests between Kurdish residents and Arabs, two rival groups in the Kirkuk region in Iraq, arose this Saturday night. Security and police forces imposed a curfew in the area to get the situation under control, but it was too late as the clash between the two groups left at least three people dead.
According to Ziad Khalaf, director of the local health authority in Kirkuk, due to the armed clash between Kurds and Arabs, two people were shot in the chest and a third in the head. “The victims were a 21-year-old man and two people aged 37,” Khalaf said. In addition, Khalaf also noted, dozens from both sides and four police forces were wounded, hit by gunfire, stones or glass.
Immediately following the bloody incident, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani, called for a commission of inquiry into the incident, and vowed during a press conference Sunday morning that those responsible would be “held accountable”. He also called on all parties to “play their part in preventing strife and preserving security, stability, and order in Kirkuk Governorate”.
Sudani, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, further ordered a curfew in Kirkuk and extensive security operations in the areas affected by the riots to fulfil the responsibilities in maintaining security and upholding the rule of law.
These days, Iraq is busy hosting millions of pilgrims from across the world who have arrived to the country to take part in the Arbaeen walk, the 40th day of the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Shia Imam.
Tensions have been brewing for nearly a week in Kirkuk. The violence emanated last Friday when Arabs in Kirkuk occupied a building that served as the headquarters for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the past but which the Iraqi army has, since 2017, used as a governmental base. In a show of goodwill, the Iraqi government has announced that it will return the building to the KDP, but Arabs opposing the decision have set up a camp outside the building to protest the handover since last week.
What is the story of so much tension in Kirkuk?
Kirkuk is a city in Iraq which serves as the capital of the Kirkuk Governorate and is located 238 kilometers north of Baghdad. It has historically been an area of constant conflict between the federal government in in the capital and authorities in the autonomous Kurdistan region in the north of Iraq.
Back in 2014, the KDP and the peshmerga group, the security forces of the Kurdistan region, took control of Kirkuk, an oil-producing region of northern Iraq. However, federal troops expelled them in autumn 2017 following an abortive referendum on Kurdish independence.
Since Sudani came to power last year in July, he has done his best to improve relations between his government and the KDP. However, Arab residents and minority groups living in the area say they suffer under Kurdish rule and have protested the KDP’s return.
Turkey, who considers the Kurds as terrorists, carried out a drone attack in northern Iraq last week, which resulted in the killing of seven members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkish authorities said.
A day before the attacks, Turkey sent an envoy to Iraq to demand the Iraqi government to officially recognize the PKK, as a “terrorist” organization, mirroring Ankara and its Western allies. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan was in Baghdad on Tuesday last week on his first official visit since taking office to send this message to Baghdad.
“We cannot accept PKK challenging the sovereignty of Iraq,” Fidan said during a joint news conference after sitting down with his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein, in the Iraqi capital.