When the city of Kirkuk changed hands between the Peshmerga and Hashd al-Shaabi militants last October, many residents fled their homes as looting and murder began. Now, order has been somewhat restored by Iraqi security forces but these same displaced citizens believe they cannot return home. An investigative committee has been established by the central Iraqi government but the former residents of Tuz Kurmatu believe it will yield little in the way of results.
Tuz Kurmatu is on the outskirts of Kirkuk and shares a border with the city of Bashir, both regions are predominantly Shiite. The Hashd al-Shaabi forces that took over and now occupy the city are Shiite in origin as well as a full-fledged paramilitary force directly supported by Iraq and Iran. The displaced Kurdish residents are predominantly Sunni. This is where the confiscation of homes and ensuing chaos is rooted next to an inherent distrust between Iraqis and Kurds in general.
Under the belief that the perpetrators will not likely be held accountable for their actions by the committee, citizens express defeatism. An anonymous citizen identified as ‘Govand’ told local media that, “We have no hopes for the committee. Whatever committee has visited us has only given pledges. Everything in this Iraq has only become shiny words,” speaking to the general sentiment felt by the local populace. The Kurdish Regional Government has contended that the mass displacement is a form of ethnic cleansing by Iraqi Arabs.
The investigative committee was formed this year when the Iraqi Minister of Immigration went to Kirkuk to begin the investigation. The committee is made up of multiple ethnicities to include Turkmen, Kurds and Arabs to give the collective a diverse and unbiased outlook on the situation. Around 181,000 residents were displaced from Kirkuk because of the ongoing conflict in the region. It’s hard to reach an exact figure as a good deal of these people moved in with family members residing within Kurdistan and have neglected to tell the KRG or the United Nations of their status.
Another displaced Kurdish citizen, Drust, said, “No, they won’t take the criminals to the court,” when asked if the perpetrators would be prosecuted by the committee for their actions. Jwamer stated that, “No. Because in this Iraq, the rule of law is not sovereign. Law has become like a fish net. It only captures the small, not the big. I don’t ever believe in these committees,” when asked the same question. Citizens have little faith in the central government, which has a spotty track record on accountability and corruption. Despite this, many felt that Iraq’s Rapid Forces Division have put a leash on Hashd al-Shaabi forces in the region and that the current security situation was better now.
It is also felt that the Kurds had fallen from dominance in Kirkuk, where Kurdish symbols have been desecrated routinely since October. A local resident named Darwan said, “We were the government in Tuz prior to October 16. You don’t dare to go back in Kurdish clothes or with the Kurdish flag now.” Jwamer expressed a similar sentiment saying, “Never. Even if you go back you won’t have the same posture as before. You won’t be able to hoist the Kurdistan flag. Even if you go back you won’t have any authority. It is a very widespread phenomenon to disrespect the Kurdish flag, Kurdish clothes.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Masterworld224 [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons