Breaking Up Iraq Won’t Help

Voices of war #1

Breaking Up Iraq Won’t Help Breaking Up Iraq Won’t Help
As part of War Is Boring’s field coverage of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, we are publishing a series of Q&As by photojournalist... Breaking Up Iraq Won’t Help

As part of War Is Boring’s field coverage of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, we are publishing a series of Q&As by photojournalist Matt Cetti-Roberts.

These are Cetti-Roberts’ conversations with soldiers, fighters and politicians — and everyday people on the streets. This is the first installment in the ongoing series.


Mahmood Abid is a Shia Arab who has lived in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk all his life. He’s 30 years old and runs a men’s clothing store.

Last summer, Islamic State — also known as ISIS — decimated Iraqi army forces in the northern city of Mosul. As Islamic State advanced, Iraqi soldiers defending Kirkuk fled their positions.

Today, Kurdish troops control Kirkuk and defend it from sporadic jihadist attacks.

Ethnically mixed and oil-rich, Kirkuk is the dividing line between Kurdish aspirations for greater autonomy — and perhaps one day, independence — and the central government in Baghdad.

Abid said the best outcome would be a peaceful city where everyone — Kurdish and Arab — is treated equally. What follows are Abid’s comments.

On the security situation in Kirkuk

Before ISIS, we had hope. Life was better. On the third day of Eid [July 30, 2014], ISIS bombed some Shia houses in Kirkuk.

The mayor of Kirkuk has a Facebook page, and he asked if the governor could protect the Shia neighborhoods, because the Asayesh [Kurdish security agency] were only in their barracks. The policemen in Kirkuk were unable to deal with a situation like this.

Before ISIS, the Asayesh would be around at night, but now it’s only the police — who stay in their bases.

On the prospect of Kurdish rule

I would like Kirkuk to be a part of Kurdistan, as long as we are equal to the Kurds and have the same rights. As long as I can live free, I’m happy. I would like to be able to visit government offices without needing a Kurdish person to help.

Right now you need to know someone, a wasta, to get things done. Some offices are controlled by Turkmen, some by Kurds and some by Arabs.

A child in Kirkuk’s bird market. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

My biggest fear is a civil war between Sunni and Shia in Iraq.

I would only be happy if the Shia get the same rights as everyone else. There are many Arabs living in Iraqi Kurdistan, and they are happy.

On Iraq’s political divisions

The politicians will sort it out. If they want it, everyone will take a share and everything will be okay. A divided Iraq will not work — it’s no good because everyone is mixed everywhere.

What of the Sunnis in Basra and Baghdad? What would happen to them? Will they be kicked out?

I love Kirkuk. I never want to leave.

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