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article imageTurkmen minority in Kirkuk form militia after Kurdish takeover

By Ken Hanly     Jun 18, 2014 in Politics
Kirkuk - The takeover of Kirkuk by Kurdish Peshmerga the Kurds claim is designed to protect the city from any jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ((ISIL) attack is greeted with suspicion by the large minorities of Arab and Turkmen residents of the city.
Arshad Salihi, president of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF) announced that a new Turkmen militia had been formed in Kirkuk prepared to fight if the Kurdish Peshmerga "refuse to return Kirkuk to the federal government." The Peshmerga occupied the city on June 12 after Iraqi forces left the city as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant forces advanced.
Yousif Sadiq, the parliamentary speaker for the Kurdish Regional Government(KRG) has already said that the Kurds have no plans to hand back control to the central government. Saddam followed a policy of sending more Arab citizens to Kirkuk and many Kurds were displaced. There was to be a referendum to settle the issue of whether the city belonged in the KRG but it was never held.
The Kurds appear to have used the present advance by ISIL to settle the issue in their favor. However, the move is creating new ethnic tensions within the city. There are large oil reserves near the city increasing the tension between the central government and the KRG over the issue. As mentioned the KRG insists that citizens will be protected from ISIL occupation by the Peshmerga claiming on their website: "People living in areas under Peshmerga control ... have nothing to fear because the Peshmerga will loyally protect them." Another Kurdish official noted that Peshmerga were protecting all ethnic groups including the Turkmen.
Salihi was still concerned that "without the Iraqi army there will be radical political achievements for other sides." He said of the Kurds: "If they try to impose something that we do not accept, how can we live together? If today we don’t have forces, tomorrow we will have. We are asking people to carry weapons and defend themselves." However, without the Kurds, Kirkuk could come under the control of the ISIL as did the mostly Turkmen city of Tal Afar west of Mosul.
Neighbouring Turkey worries about the KRG gaining too much power and that too much success may embolden its own large Kurdish minority to seek more rights and independence. However, at the same time, Turkey is receiving oil from the area and has along with other countries invested in the KRG, creating a construction boom.
While the ISIL often comes in conflict with the Kurds, it may also be following a policy of not attacking them if not attacked so it can concentrate its battle against the Shia central government forces. There is even a report that the Peshmerga had received an informal offer of a truce from ISIL fighters.
When the ISIL occupy an area they are often supported by local Sunni insurgents thus creating an alliance that might be difficult to defeat or dislodge. The Kurds have fought with the ISIL over territory in Syria and do not share their jihadist ideology. Saadi Pira who is a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan a major Kurdish party said:“This is a terrorist organization. Kurds have historically been victims of terrorism, this is why we see ISIS as a terrorist group and should fight against them.” However, this view is tempered by a pragmatic approach expressed by another Kurdish politician Arif Taifour from the Kurdistan Democratic Party the largest Kurdish party: “If the Sunni insurgents become a reality in these areas, we have to come to terms with them, or at least, we should then see them as a new force.”
More about Turkmen, Kirkuk, Iraqi Kurdistan
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