For Many Iraqi Kurds, a Separate State Is Inevitable

July 30, 2015 0

But what of the region’s minorities? by MATT CETTI-ROBERTS During the American occupation, Kirkuk was a violence-prone hotbed for insurgents fighting the U.S. military...

But what of the region’s minorities?


During the American occupation, Kirkuk was a violence-prone hotbed for insurgents fighting the U.S. military and Kurdish troops.

That war is over — but a new one is underway. Today, Kirkuk is the location of fighting between Islamic State and the Peshmerga — the Kurdish military force which now effectively controls the city.

Ethnically divided and with a significant Arab and Turkmen population residing within, many Kurds see the city’s future belonging to an independent Kurdish state.

We’ve previously spoken to Iraqis opposed to that prospect. As part of War Is Boring’s field coverage of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, here are conversations with residents who take a different view.

Twenty-five-year-old Mohammad Kakadi, seen above, is a Kurd from the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. He runs a small cleaning products stall in the city’s marketplace. Kakadi’s hopes that there will be an independent Kurdistan — with the Peshmerga continuing to offer its protection.

Kurdish forces in Kirkuk

“It’s very good that the Peshmerga are protecting Kirkuk. If it wasn’t for them, ISIS would have conquered us. The hope for the Kurds is in the Peshmerga — the Iraqi army just ran away.”

On Arab refugees in Kurdish land

“The Kurdish heart is strong. Once, we were the refugees. Now we must accept the Arabs as refugees.”

Kurdish independence

“We all hope for independence. All of us hope that all four parts of Kurdistan — including Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iran — will become one unified country. Iraqi-Kurdish independence would be very good for us, but we yearn for all of Kurdistan to be free.”

Whether Kurds should control Kirkuk

“I would like Kirkuk to be part of Iraqi-Kurdistan, if everyone in Kirkuk agrees and if the Turkmen of Kirkuk want independence as well.”

“If Kirkuk becomes part of Iraqi-Kurdistan, the Arabs should have the same rights as Kurds.”

Above — Abdulla Morfuk. At top — Mohammad Kakadi. Matt Cetti-Roberts photos

Twenty-year-old Abdulla Morfuk is an Iraqi Turkman born in Kirkuk. He works in one of the city’s shoe shops. Ethnic kin to the Turks, the Turkmen are the third-largest ethnic group in Iraq. Estimates of their numbers range from 500,000 to three million people, depending on the source.

Morfuk described his hope that Iraqi Turkmen will receive the rights that have eluded them. He also believes that the Peshmerga is a force for good as far as his people are concerned.

Kurdish forces in Kirkuk

“ISIS came to capture people. For example, when ISIS invaded Mosul University they had a list of names so they could take captives.”

“The Peshmerga’s presence is an improvement — they protect us. Some people say the Peshmerga should have asked permission before they entered Kirkuk, but I don’t agree because they made life here much safer.”

Whether Kurds should control Kirkuk

“We need a middle solution. Until now, I have not seen anything good come from Baghdad, so if the Kurds give us rights then I’m happy with that. We should all be treated the same. Turkmen have never had any help from Baghdad, so maybe under Kurdish control we would see some good things happen.”

The Western response to Iraq’s refugees

“I feel very sorry for the refugees. In my street, I see people from Baiji and Tikrit. My mother takes them food.”

“Sweden said that it would accept 5,000 Christian refugees. Why won’t they take in other kinds of people as well? I don’t think it will make a difference — I don’t think the Christians will go. They will work for the oil companies. They will not have jobs in Sweden — they will just be refugees here.”

Amir Hassan. Matt Cetti-Roberts photo

Amir Hassan, known by his nickname Amir Halabjae, is a Kurdish poet and journalist born in the Kurdish town of Halabja — the scene of the worst chemical weapons attack in history.

The Halabja Massacre was part of the Anfal Campaign, Saddam Hussein’s genocidal war against the Kurds and other minorities in northern Iraq during the 1980s. The chemical attack in Halabja alone killed 5,000 Kurds, most of them civilians.

Today Hassan lives in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniah. A regular patron of the famous Sha’ab Chaikhana tea house, he’s been going there for 29 years where he talks life and politics with other patrons. He wears a small pin on his shirt in remembrance to those who died in Halabja.

On Kurdish independence

“It is too late to ask about an independent Kurdistan. The Kurds have been fighting from the beginning of the 1950s to be independent. But what they get, they lose during negotiations.”

“Independence will come soon. Even the British government think that independence will come soon.”

The fate of Arabs residents Kirkuk

“That’s not my work, but the politicians are saying that Kirkuk is a place where people must live together and they [the politicians] have to take responsibility to make sure that happens.”

“They have to respect the other people in Kirkuk, because they were living there, and they are still living there.”

On Islamic State

“ISIS is not just the group, there are people from all over the world with ISIS — not just Arab, not just Sunni. They are not just in one place, they are here today and somewhere else tomorrow.”

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