- Kirkuk, Iraq, is an ethnically diverse city with well over 600,000 people as well as being an oil-rich, ethnically diverse province (governorate) of Iraq. It is situated along the line where the Kurdish and Arab populations of Iraq meet. As such, the Iraqi government and the Kurds have never been able to agree on whether it should be included in a Kurdish autonomous region. Kirkuk voted against Faisal becoming king of Iraq during the referendum of 1921. Turkey also claimed it until the League of Nations finally handed it over to Iraq as part of the former Ottoman vilayet of Mosul in 1926.During the 1960s and 1970s, Kirkuk was perhaps the most important point of disagreement between Mulla Mustafa Barzani and the Iraqi government. Showing his ultimately poor judgment, Barzani refused to compromise on Kirkuk and even declared that he would allow the United States to exploit its oil fields. The Iraqi government felt that—given the Kurdish links to the West and Iran—handing Kirkuk to the Kurds, in effect, would be giving the area and its rich oil reserves back to the West.Historically, most of the Kurds arrived rather recently to the city and its oil fields. The census in 1947 indicated that the Kurds constituted only 25 percent of the city's population and 53 percent of the surrounding province. As recently as 1958, the city of Kirkuk had a larger Turkoman than Kurdish population. The census in 1965, however, listed 71,000 Kurds, 55,000 Turkomans, and 41,000 Arabs. In July 1959, communist elements aided by bands of Kurds tragically massacred more than 100 Turkomans in Kirkuk.After it crushed Barzani in 1975, the Iraqi government began to Arabize Kirkuk by forcibly expelling Kurds and replacing them with Arabs, as well as making it difficult for the remaining Kurds to hold property. The Iraqi government even officially renamed Kirkuk province as Tamim (Nationalization), supposedly in honor of the nationalization of the oil fields in 1972. The government also gerrymandered towns with a heavy Kurdish population in Kirkuk province into Sulaymaniya province. These towns included Kalar, Kifri, Chamchamal, and Tuz Khurmatu. More recently, as Saddam Hussein turned to genocide, more forcible methods were also used. As a result, Kirkuk province today no longer has a clear Kurdish majority.During the second Gulf War, the Kurds eagerly joined the U.S. attack against Saddam Hussein's Iraq in March 2003 and easily helped occupy Kirkuk. Their purpose was to facilitate the return of previously expelled Kurdish refugees and annex the province to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Indeed, Article 140 of the permanent Iraqi constitution adopted on 15 October 2005 provided that a referendum be held by the end of 2007 to determine the ultimate political fate of Kirkuk, which the Kurds claimed should become part of the KRG. However, due to an inability to agree on the specifics of such a referendum, Article 140 has not been implemented and as of this writing seems unlikely to be. This situation greatly frustrates the Kurds but is the result of the renewed power of the Iraqi Arabs as well as the continuing strength of Turkey, which fears that by annexing Kirkuk, the KRG would become strong enough to seek independence and then possibly divide Turkey by appealing to the ethnic Kurds in that state. The Baker-Hamilton Report, also known as the Iraq Study Group (ISG) Report, issued in December 2006 also recommended that the referendum be postponed in order to prevent further conflict. The Kurds bitterly denounced this proposal as another potential U.S. betrayal.As a result of these bitter disputes, Kirkuk was excluded from the nationwide provincial polls held on 31 January 2009. (The KRG region was also excluded.) Nouri al-Maliki's government emerged stronger from these elections, which encouraged it to continue its hard line against the Kurds annexing Kirkuk. In April 2009, the United Nations released a special 450-page report on the situation. This UN report suggested that the Iraqi central government and KRG either share the disputed territory on an equal basis or allow it to become a semi-autonomous region. The Kurds were disappointed by the results of the 7 March 2010 national election results in Kirkuk province when the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)-Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) electoral alliance split the vote evenly with an Arab-Turkoman alliance. As of this writing in 2010, therefore, the dispute continues and threatens to involve the central Iraqi government in Baghdad and the KRG in actual conflict if cooler heads do not prevail.
Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. Michael M. Gunter.
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