Monday, January 02, 2006

Kurds flock to Kirkuk, claiming land and oil

"Clearly, for the Kurds, Kirkuk is a strategic prize," said Col. David Gray, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, charged with securing the province. "They feel very strongly about bringing their people to Kirkuk to right the wrong that was done under Saddam's regime and the Arabization program. That does collide, of course, with the other groups in the province." Arabs and Turkmens argue that many of the Kurds moving in were not displaced by Saddam -- they originated elsewhere and are settling here to ensure that the province is voted into Kurdistan in 2007.

"The Kurds are building property, houses on land they don't own," said Sangul Chapuk, a Turkmen politician who served on the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

The last accurate census showed that the Turkmens, a Central Asian ethnic group that governed this area under the Ottoman Empire, had a slight majority. That was in 1957. The numbers drastically changed under Saddam's decades-long program of ethnic displacement and further shifted after the American invasion. Capt. Greg Ford, 1st Brigade's intelligence officer, estimated that 85,000 to 350,000 Kurds had moved into the Kirkuk region since spring 2003.