The Shiite-led Iraqi government is trying to force a demographic change in 500 Kurdish villages across northern Iraq’s disputed Kirkuk province, arming and resettling thousands of Shiite Arabs in the region, a Kurdish mayor reportedly claimed this week.
Backed by Iran-allied Shiite militias in October 2017, the Iraqi military overran Kirkuk after Kurds in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) overwhelmingly approved an independence referendum.
In the wake of Kirkuk’s fall to Baghdad, Luqman Hussein, the mayor of the Sargaran subdistrict of the Dibis district in Kirkuk, repeatedly warned that Baghdad is trying to impose “Arabization” against the local Kurds through the Iraqi government-appointed governor of the region.
Goran Abdulla, a Kirkuk-based Kurdish activist, told Kurdistan 24 that following the Oct. 16 events, Baghdad-appointed provincial Gov. Rakan Saeed “has led a systematic process of Arabization and Shiafication of the contested region.”
Both Baghdad and the KRG claim ownership of Kirkuk.
“Since the Oct. 16 events, the Baghdad-imposed governor of Kirkuk brought thousands of Arabs to the Dibis and Sargaran areas,” the Kurdish mayor declared in a statement issued Tuesday, noting that the Iraqi government has armed and resettled in the Kurdish villages, Kurdistan 24 reports.
The mayor for months has accused Baghdad of bringing Arabs into Kirkuk and allowing them to seize land.
“Hussein claimed 500 Kurdish villages in the areas of Dibis, Sargaran, Perde, Hasar, Shwan, Laylan, Trkalan, Daquq, and Topzawa face the threat of Arabization by the local authorities in Kirkuk Province,” Kurdistan 24 reports.
Echoing Hussein, Abdulla reportedly cautioned, “The resettling of 17,640 Arab families to Kirkuk city center threatens to change the demography of the city … noting that 3,024 of those families were brought from outside of the province.”
In January, Hussein accused Shite Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of backing “Arabization policies against the Kurdish population in Kirkuk.”
For months now, Hussein has been urging the KRG to take action against the “Arabization” of Kirkuk, historically home to a diverse population of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other groups.
Except for Israel, all Middle Eastern countries and the United States came out against the KRG’s efforts to break away from Baghdad and become an independent state.
Historically, neighboring Iran, Turkey, and Syria have all opposed Iraqi Kurdistan independence as they fear the desire for a sovereign state would spread to their own Kurdish populations.
Syrian Kurds have also accused Ankara of imposing “Arabization” in northern Syria, which borders Turkey.