Thursday, October 25, 2007

As Turkey-Iraq crisis escalates, US plans military strikes on PKK bases

With the Turkish military poised to strike the guerrilla bases of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, Washington and London are engaged in frantic diplomatic activity to prevent a Turkish intervention that would further destabilise the US occupation of Iraq. However, as the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday, the Bush administration is also drawing up plans for military attacks on the PKK, either by US forces or jointly with the Turkish army.
The Turkish government has seized on recent PKK attacks inside Turkey to justify a huge military buildup along the border with Iraq. At least 60,000 heavily-armed soldiers, backed by tanks, artillery, warplanes and helicopter gunships, have been assembled to hit PKK camps in the rugged Qandil Mountains bordering Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Last week, the Turkish parliament voted overwhelmingly to authorise the government to order cross-border operations.
On Sunday, tensions reached boiling point after some 200 PKK rebels attacked a Turkish army post, killing at least 12 soldiers and capturing eight others. The Turkish military counterattacked, pursuing the guerrillas over the border into Iraq. According to the Turkish press, combat aircraft hit more than 60 targets inside Iraq. However, Turkey held back from launching a large-scale invasion into Iraq’s Kurdish north.
The Turkish government is insisting that the US and Iraq take action to destroy the PKK’s bases, capture the PKK leaders and hand them over to Ankara. In response, the US and Britain pressed the Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional government to deal with the PKK. A series of meetings over the past two days in Washington, London and Baghdad has failed to the resolve the issue.
After speaking to Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ominously warned: “We cannot wait forever... We have to make our own decision.” In Baghdad, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, while calling for a diplomatic solution, rejected out-of-hand the suggestion of a ceasefire with the PKK, which he insisted was a “terrorist organisation”.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described the frenzy of diplomatic activity as a “full-court press” by Bush administration officials to prevent a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq. The basketball analogy, however, implies a planned strategy. It would be more appropriate to describe the US response as one of sheer panic as the consequences of the Bush administration’s criminal invasion of Iraq and its reckless preparations for a new war on Iran come home to roost.
The Kurdish north of Iraq is routinely hailed as the great success story of the US occupation. In reality, it is a highly unstable house of cards. As the pay off for their backing of the US invasion in 2003, the Bush administration allowed the two major Kurdish nationalist parties—the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)—to establish an autonomous region in three northern provinces. From the outset, Turkish leaders regarded the regional government as a threat that would encourage broader Kurdish separatist sentiment. They were particularly hostile to its demands for control of the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, which has a sizeable Turkmen population, and the surrounding oil fields.
The failure of the US to take any action against PKK guerrillas entrenched in the Qandil Mountains has only heightened tensions with Turkey. The PKK and its sister organisation, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), which operates inside Iran, have been allowed to function freely in Iraq’s northern provinces, obtaining supplies and finance through its major cities. Despite denials, there is ample evidence that the US and Israel have been covertly arming and training PJAK guerrillas as a means of gathering intelligence inside Iran and destabilising the Iranian regime. The New York Times, for instance, published a lengthy story yesterday citing a PJAK leader as saying there was “normal dialogue” with American officials.
The lack of any clear cut dividing line between the PJAK and PKK—both groups operate from the same mountainous areas, share a similar Kurdish separatist program and common origins—only underscores the Bush administration’s hypocrisy and cynicism. To keep US ally Turkey on side, the US has branded the PKK as a terrorist organisation, but not the PJAK.
Any Turkish attack on the PKK/PJAK bases and Kurdish villages in Iraq would inevitably provoke an angry reaction among Iraqi Kurds and threaten to draw in Kurdish peshmerga militia units and the Iraqi army. Such a move would be deeply destabilising, not only for the Kurdish regional government, but also the Iraqi government in Baghdad, which relies heavily on PUK/KDP support.
US military preparations
Washington is clearly desperate to prevent a Turkish military intervention in Iraq or a breach in the US/Turkish alliance. Quite apart from long-term strategic considerations, the US military funnels around 70 percent of its air cargo to Iraq via a major US air base in southern Turkey. At the same time, more than 1,000 Turkish troops are in Afghanistan as part of NATO forces, helping to prop up the US-led occupation of that country.
While publicly calling for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, the Bush administration is also making preparations for a military assault on PKK bases. President Bush spoke to Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Monday via telephone. According to White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe, Bush offered reassurances to Gul that the US would work with Turkey and Iraq “to combat PKK terrorists operating out of northern Iraq”.
The Chicago Tribune yesterday reported that military action was discussed. An unnamed US official familiar with the Bush/Gul conversation told the newspaper that the US was seriously looking into options beyond diplomacy to deal with the PKK. “It’s not ‘Kumbaya’ time anymore—just talking about trilateral talks is not going to be enough. Something has to be done,” the official said.
A range of military options were being considered, including air strikes and the use of cruise missiles against PKK bases. Another option discussed was to persuade the Kurdish regional government to use its militia forces to establish a cordon around the mountains where the PKK is entrenched, in order to choke off its supply routes. The deployment of US troops to hit the PKK was considered to be a final resort.
Highlighting the fears in Washington, the US official told the Chicago Tribune: “In the past, there has been reluctance to engage in direct US military action against the PKK, either through air strikes or some kind of Special Forces action. But the red line was always, if the Turks were going to come over the border, it could be so destabilising that it might be less risky for us to do something ourselves. Now the Turks are at the end of their rope, and our risk calculus is changing.”
Bush’s discussion with Gul followed an urgent telephone call on Sunday by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, urging him to hold back from an immediate military attack inside northern Iraq. Chicago Tribune reported that Erdogan had given a 72-hour reprieve on any cross-border attack. The Turkish government is under pressure from the military and opposition parties, particularly extreme right-wing nationalists, to launch a military operation. At the same time, however, it is deeply concerned about an open breach with the US and the consequences of war that threatens to be inconclusive and could become a broader regional conflict.
An article posted on the Thomson Financial web site indicated that the US and Turkey may be planning a combined military operation against the PKK. As he flew to London on Monday, Erdogan told reporters: “We may conduct a joint operation with the United States against the PKK in northern Iraq... We expect to work jointly, just as we do in Afghanistan.” Speaking of his conversation with Rice the previous day, he added: “She was worried. I saw she was in favour of a joint operation. She asked for a few days time and said she would come back to us.”
The Iraqi Kurdish nationalist parties are obviously alarmed. By slavishly supporting the US occupation of Iraq, the PUK and KDP calculated that they would have American backing to establish their own small political and business empire in northern Iraq that would eventually include the oil-rich region around Kirkuk. Having declared that it would resist any Turkish invasion, the regional government is now under pressure from its American sponsors to take action itself against the PKK. Its jealously guarded “autonomy” is rapidly crumbling under the pressure of demands from Ankara and Washington.
After discussions at the White House, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a member of the PUK, told the Brookings Institute on Monday: “My worry is that there are demands of the KRG and the Iraqi government to ‘fight the PKK’. That could well be a recipe for an open-ended conflict in which we will not win and will basically destabilise the only stable part of Iraq.”
There is a long history of the sordid manoeuvres by various Kurdish nationalist politicians with the major powers ending in disaster for the Kurdish people. The present situation is no different. The “stable” north of Iraq may well become the new battleground for “an open-ended conflict”. Those immediately responsible are the PUK and KDP leaders who tied the fate of Iraqi Kurds to the Bush administration and its criminal occupation of Iraq.
See Also:Conflict between Turkey and the US intensifies[17 October 2007]Turkish government gives green light for military intervention in northern Iraq[15 October 2007]Bush condemns House vote on Armenian genocide[12 October 2007]Washington's proxy war inside Kurdish Iran[20 September 2007]

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Turkmens get ahead in Kirkuk talks through US push on Kurds

Ahmet Muratlı, the Iraqi Turkmen Front's (ITC) representative in Ankara, sounded hopeful on Tuesday regarding progress in ongoing negotiations between the Turkmen and Arab blocs and the Kurds in the strategically vital northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. He stressed that a recent attitude of compromise on the part of the Kurdish side was the fruit of the Turkmen and Arab blocs' tough bargaining as well as US officials' pressure on the Kurds.

Ahmet Muratlı
At the moment Kurds hold 26 seats in Kirkuk's 41-member provincial council. There are nine Turkmen and six Arab members, all of whom have been boycotting meetings for months in support of their demands for a fair distribution of the government posts.
"Particularly following recent remarks by US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who earlier this month said a referendum that will determine the future status of Kirkuk is unlikely to proceed as planned, the Iraqi Kurds' attitude has become more compromising than earlier as they have understood they can no longer pretend as if everything is on track in Kirkuk," Muratlı said in a brief interview with Today's Zaman on Tuesday. In June a Turkmen delegation led by ITC head Saadettin Ergeç had talks with senior officials in the US capital and voiced uneasiness with the fact that the normalization of security sought by the Iraqi constitution, which is a must for holding the planned referendum, hasn't occurred in the city. In the last 10 days, US government and military officials held secret talks in Kirkuk with both Iraqi Kurds and the Turkmen and Arab blocs, Muratlı explained.
"The US officials have been pressuring the Kurds because they want to see concrete progress in the city that they can promote by taking note of it on a report that will be represented to the president next month," Muratlı said, referring to the fact that Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Crocker will represent their views on Iraq to US President George W. Bush and Congress in a report during the first half of September.
Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution stipulates a Dec. 31 deadline this year for the Kirkuk referendum. A process of "normalization" is continuing now for reversing the effects of former leader Saddam Hussein's policy of driving the Kurds out of a string of northern cities and replacing them with Arabs. The constitutional timetable also stipulated a census be completed by the end of July, but neither this nor "normalization" have been implemented.
In a letter dated Aug.13 and sent to both Arab and Turkmen members of the city council in an effort to persuade them to end their boycott of the council, Iraqi Kurds offered two deputy governorships -- one to each of the two groups. Yet, according to the local administration law adopted following the US-led invasion of the country in 2003, every province has a governing council, and the council's head can only have one deputy. Additionally there is one governor and one deputy governor.
Muratlı said their hard bargaining would continue and that they wanted the governorship of Kirkuk. Turkmens also want their language to be used as an official language in addition to Arabic and Kurdish in the city. "We want our language to be used in official plates at schools, hospitals and the like," he said.
Another important bargaining issue for Turkmens and Arabs is a fair allocation of the crucial posts in the province, including the chief of police, the municipality, the land registry and the census office, which were seized by the Kurds once they secured a majority on the council.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Turkoman Movement Sues Iraqi Kurdistan President, Urges Article 140 Delay

BBC Monitoring Middle East, 2007-08-20
Text of report from Arbil by Bizhar Shwani entitled: "The Independent Turkoman Movement calls for the delay of Article 140, prefers protection of Kirkuk to be handed over to the Iraqi government, not to peshmerga"; published by Iraqi Pro-Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) weekly newspaper Chawder on 20 August
The chairman of the Independent Turkoman Movement, Kan'an Shakir, has told Chawder that they called for the postponement of [the implementation of constitutional] Article 140 for the normalization of Kirkuk. He added: "It would be better to hand over the mission of protecting Kirkuk to the Iraqi government, not to the peshmerga, because if Kirkuk is under the control of one side it would become uneven."
Shakir said that they had lodged a lawsuit against Kurdistan Region President Mas'ud Barzani over the events of August 1996. [In August 1996 the Kurdistan Democratic Party sought the help of Saddam Husain's army in order to take over the city of Arbil from the then rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; Turkomans claim that many of them were captured by Iraqi forces during the event]
The aforementioned person said: "Democracy is not valued in Kurdistan Region, and the Turkomans' rights have been undermined in the interests of others."
He said that the Kurdish authorities have not supported Turkomans.
Originally published by Chawder, Sulaymaniyah, in Sorani Kurdish 20 Aug 07 p2.
(c) 2007 BBC Monitoring Middle East. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

ITC'den Barzaniye Terörizm Yasası

Iraqi Turkoman Front Calls on Government to Use Anti-Terror Law Against Barzani
BBC Monitoring Middle East, 2007-08-03
Text of report by Frman Abd-al-Rahman entitled "Turkoman Front calls on Iraqi government to treat Barzani according to anti-terror law", carried by Sbay media website of former PUK deputy leader Nawshirwan Mustafa's Wisha Company on 3 August
The Turkoman Front has called on the Iraqi government to take a stance on Kurdistan Region President Mas'ud Barzani's statement, described by the Front as "threats against all political components of Iraq and the neighbouring countries". The front also called on all Iraqi forces to take a clear stance on those threats.

Iraqi Turkoman Front Calls on Government to Use Anti-Terror Law Against Barzani

BBC Monitoring Middle East, 2007-08-03
Text of report by Frman Abd-al-Rahman entitled "Turkoman Front calls on Iraqi government to treat Barzani according to anti-terror law", carried by Sbay media website of former PUK deputy leader Nawshirwan Mustafa's Wisha Company on 3 August
The Turkoman Front has called on the Iraqi government to take a stance on Kurdistan Region President Mas'ud Barzani's statement, described by the Front as "threats against all political components of Iraq and the neighbouring countries". The front also called on all Iraqi forces to take a clear stance on those threats.
In a statement published on Thursday [2 August], a copy of which was obtained by the Sbay website, the Turkoman Front described the Kurdistan Region president's statement as "political bankruptcy".
The statement said: "We call on the Iraqi government to adopt legal measures within the anti-terror law against Barzani's statements, which smells of terrorism."
In an exclusive statement for Sbay, Turkoman Front Executive Council member Jamal Shan described Barzani's statement as "a harsh and dangerous statement on Iraq and Kirkuk". Shan added: "Barzani's statement was a political adventure towards the political achievements of the Kurds in the new Iraqi government. For if a civil war, as he says breaks out, the whole of Iraq, not only Kirkuk, will suffer disaster and destruction."
The Turkoman Front official added: "We will not adopt military procedures, but we called on the Iraqi government to take an appropriate action and take a stance in this regard."
Shan said that such statements was not in anyone's interest and that the presence of the Americans would prevent the eruption of another war in the region, adding that those who attacked would always suffer more casualties than those who defend.
Shan said: "The Kirkuk problem is like the Darfur and Kosovo problem and should be resolved through the UN."
It is worth noting that Barzani said in an interview with Al- Hurrah TV: "If Article 140 is not implemented, then a real civil war will break out."
[Article 140 calls for the normalization of the status of Kirkuk by the end of 2007].
In the same context, head of the Kurdistan Region Presidency Office Fuad Husayn told Sbay: "We are not aware of the Turkoman Front's statement. President Barzani has a steady and clear policy regarding the general issues in Iraq and Kurdistan. He will not give up his policies for anyone's sake." Husayn added: "We cannot react to each and every statement of the Turkoman Front or others or deny all their statements."
(c) 2007 BBC Monitoring Middle East. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Barzani Threatens Bush With War

August 02, 2007 12:00 PM EST
by Scott Sullivan
Not only is Nazi Iran’s ally Massoud Barzani refusing to speak out against the PKK as the US had hoped, he is now issuing threats against the US. This latest Barzani threat to President Bush comes as the Baghdad government appears near to collapse. A collapse of central authority in Baghdad would dramatically escalate Iraq’s civil war, which in turn would tempt Iraq’s neighbors, beginning with Turkey, to intervene.
Barzani is quoted in today’s Washington Times that if Baghdad fails to implement the promised referendum on Kirkuk, a referendum which would provide a quasi-legal basis for Barzani to annex Kirkuk and its vast oil wealth, Baghdad would precipitate a “real civil war” in Iraq.
Let’s take a moment to analyze Barzani’s words. What Barzani is really saying is that he can make things far worse for the US in Iraq. Barzani controls a combined force of 80,000 troops including Kurdish peshmerga militia and 5,000 PKK terrorists already in Iraq. This Iraqi Kurdish force, most likely reinforced with thousands of PKK “volunteers” from Turkey, will wage war at Barzani’s command on Iraqi Kurdistan’s ethnic and religious minorities. Barzani, in other words, will attack the tens of thousands of innocent and unprotected Arabs, Turkmen, and Christians who reside in Kurdistan.
Barzani’s pogrom (for there is no other word) will begin with the peshmerga/PKK ethnic cleansing of Kirkuk, after which Barzani will simply annex Kirkuk, referendum or no referendum. Barzani no doubt will next move on Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, and, like Kirkuk, the locale for substantial Iraqi oil reserves.
In addition to his pogrom, Barzani is also saying that he will withdraw all Kurdish peshmerga units who are serving with the Iraqi army in Baghdad, which would disrupt operations by Coalition forces and create new political and military turbulence as these Kurdish forces are pulled back.
To say Barzani’s threat comes at a bad time for the Baghdad government is an understatement. Iraq’s parliament has gone in recess the entire month of August without acting on major legislation, in defiance of Congress and President Bush, while the Sunnis appear willing to withdraw from the national government altogether.
In fact, Barzani’s immediate goal, backed by Nazi Iran, could be to collapse what little is left of Iraq’s central government. Barzani could calculate that if Washington and Baghdad are having second thoughts about the Kirkuk referendum, he will test Bush’s resolve and deprive him of the last possible fig leaf for the US presence in Iraq. If so, Barzani has suddenly emerged to become a mortal danger for Bush and the entire US deployment in Iraq.
This scenario of Barzani aligning with Iran and the PKK against Bush would explain the Robert Novak op-ed last week describing a purported US plan of covert assassination against the PKK leadership in northern Iraq, described by Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman in closed testimony before Congress. A first question to ask is if Edelman is sending a warning shot in Barzani’s direction? Is Edelman -- former ambassador Turkey but no friend of Turkey -- now demanding that Barzani cooperate with Ankara against the PKK?
Even more important, does Barzani suspect that Edelman is bluffing about US interest in restraining the Kurds? This is most plausible, given Edelman’s own past contempt for Ankara, in which case Barzani is right that in saying that Iraq’s real civil war is about to begin. Barzani himself will light the fuse. Is Edelman now prepared to defend Kirkuk and Mosul? Would Edelman ask Turkish peacekeepers to assist in the defense of Kirkuk and Mosul?
Finally, how can the Bush administration with a straight face ask the Arab states to cooperate in containing Iran when the US is backpedaling before a Kurdish-PKK-Iranian coalition in Iraq, where the US has 140,000 troops?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Attack on the house of a Turkmen leader in Iraq's Salah el-Din province

Gunmen kill 7 people in Iraq
Sun, 29 Jul 2007 17:16:40 Source: DPA

Unidentified gunmen have killed 7 people and injured 5 others in a predominantly Turkmen area in Iraq.
Seven people have been killed and 5 others wounded in an attack on the house of a Turkmen leader in Iraq's Salah el-Din province, police say. "Unidentified gunmen attacked early Sunday a predominantly Turkmen area, 85 kilometers south-west of Kirkuk, killing six and wounding six others," the city's police chief Abbas Mahmoud Amin said. "One of the six wounded died shortly after the attack, raising death toll to seven. The (five) other wounded are being treated in Kirkuk and Touz hospitals, but they are in a very critical condition," Amin added. A source who spoke on condition of anonymity told the independent Voices of Iraq (VOI) news agency that the gunmen stormed into the house of the Turkman leader, shooting those present and killing six people, including two sons of the leader and four of his bodyguards. The source did not reveal the name of the Turkman leader. "Eight gunmen were able to infiltrate security barricades manned by Kurdish Peshmerga, and fled the scene unharmed," he said. The attack happened close to Amirli, site of a truck bombing earlier this month, which left dozens of Turkman residents of the area killed and wounded. DT/RE

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Iraq: Kurdistan Security Forces Torture Detainees

Regional Government Must End Detainee Abuse and Violations of Due Process
(New York, July 3, 2007) –
Kurdistan security forces in northern Iraq routinely torture and deny basic due-process rights to detainees, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

Human Rights Watch urges the Kurdistan Regional Government to end torture and ill-treatment of detainees in the custody of the security services. The Kurdish authorities should treat all detainees according to international standards and ensure their right to due process and fair trials. The 58-page report, “Caught in the Whirlwind: Torture and Denial of Due Process by the Kurdistan Security Forces,” documents widespread and systematic mistreatment and violations of due process rights of detainees at detention facilities by Kurdistan security forces. The report is based on research conducted in Iraq’s Kurdistan region from April to October 2006, including interviews with more than 150 detainees. Human Rights Watch raised its concerns with leaders of the Kurdistan government, including President Mas`ud Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government, who created a government committee to carry out inspection visits to several detention facilities in early October 2006. “Kurdistan security forces routinely subject detainees to torture and other mistreatment,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “Although Kurdish authorities have taken serious steps to improve conditions at detention facilities, they must do more to end the practice of torture. The government must punish prison officials and interrogators found responsible for abuse.” The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are the two principal parties in the Kurdistan region, and each maintains its own security forces, known as Asayish. Both the KDP Asayish and the PUK Asayish operate outside the control of the regional government’s Ministry of Interior, maintain their own detention facilities, and have held hundreds of detainees, particularly those arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related offenses. During interviews at Asayish detention facilities, detainees told Human Rights Watch that Asayish agents had beat them with metal rods and other implements, put them in stress positions for prolonged periods, and kept them blindfolded and handcuffed continuously for several days at a time. The vast majority of detainees with whom Human Rights Watch spoke also reported that they were held in solitary confinement for extended periods. With some exceptions, Human Rights Watch found that conditions of detention at Asayish facilities were severely overcrowded and unhygienic. Human Rights Watch also found that the Asayish are holding hundreds of detainees in legal limbo without basic due-process rights, including the right to challenge their detention. In the vast majority of Asayish detainee cases that Human Rights Watch investigated, the Kurdistan authorities have not charged detainees with offenses, allowed them access to their relatives or a lawyer, brought them before an investigative judge, provided a mechanism by which they could appeal their detentions, or brought them to trial within a reasonable time period. Human Rights Watch also investigated several cases in which Kurdish authorities had apparently held hostage relatives of individuals sought for terror-related offenses. In other cases, convicted prisoners had already served their sentences but remained in prison, and detainees who had been tried and acquitted continued to be held. Most had no knowledge of their legal status, how long they would continue to be held, or what was to become of them. “The Kurdistan authorities must charge detainees with criminal offenses or else release them,” said Whitson. “Detainees must be able to challenge the legal basis for their detention and receive a prompt, fair trial on the charges against them.” In July 2006, the Kurdistan National Assembly adopted the Law on the Combat of Terrorism in the Iraq Kurdistan Region (Anti-Terrorism Law), which criminalizes a wide range of offenses deemed to constitute terrorism. This law has not clarified the legal status of those terrorism suspects who were arrested prior to its enactment. This includes several suspects arrested in joint sweeps involving Iraqi and US military forces, and subsequently transferred to the custody of Kurdistan authorities. “The Kurdish authorities must establish clear criteria to assess the legal status of terrorism suspects arrested prior to the Anti-Terrorism Law,” Whitson said. “And they need to appoint an independent judicial committee to conduct a thorough review of all detainee cases.” During the months that Human Rights Watch conducted research for this report, it held regular discussions with the Kurdistan authorities, and acknowledges the cooperation it received from officials of both the KDP and the PUK. The KDP and PUK both gave Human Rights Watch access to all Asayish detention facilities and facilitated interviews with Asayish officials, prison directors, legal advisers and other relevant actors. Human Rights Watch also acknowledges the seriousness with which the Kurdistan authorities responded to the concerns now highlighted in this report. Over the course of the last year, Asayish officials have initiated partial reviews of detainee cases and released several groups of detainees, most of whom they had held without due process. While Human Rights Watch recognizes and welcomes the cooperation of the Kurdistan authorities, this cooperation has yet to translate into any discernible improvement for most detainees in Asayish detention facilities and falls well short of the independent and impartial judicial review of the legal status of detainees that Human Rights Watch has recommended as a matter of urgency.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

special status for Kirkuk

Turkmen Front delegation in New York, wants special status for Kirkuk

29 June 2007, Friday

Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) Chairman Sadettin Ergec, also a Kirkuk deputy at the Iraqi Parliament, said on Friday that their struggle aimed to save Kirkuk as the capital of Iraqi Turkmens or at least earn it a special status.

Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) Chairman Sadettin Ergec, also a Kirkuk deputy at the Iraqi Parliament, said on Friday that their struggle aimed to save Kirkuk as the capital of Iraqi Turkmens or at least earn it a special status.
Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) Chairman Sadettin Ergec, also a Kirkuk deputy at the Iraqi Parliament, said on Friday that their struggle aimed to save Kirkuk as the capital of Iraqi Turkmens or at least earn it a special status.
Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) Chairman Sadettin Ergec, also a Kirkuk deputy at the Iraqi Parliament, said on Friday that their struggle aimed to save Kirkuk as the capital of Iraqi Turkmens or at least earn it a special status.
Ergec and the accompanying Turkmen delegation travelled to New York on Thursday after concluding talks in Washington D.C and got together with the Turkish-American community in New York at a meeting organised by the Assembly of Turkish-American Association and the New York Turkmen Institute.
Ergec delivered a speech at the meeting and briefed the audience about the situation of Turkmens in Kirkuk and the problems they faced, prior to the referendum scheduled to be held towards the end of the year.
Ergec underlined that the adoption of the Iraqi constitution was a mistake and said Iraqi Turkmens were not granted the rights they deserved. Ergec said the reason why they attached so much importance to the Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution was because it posed significant threats to Iraqi Turkmens.
"Kirkuk, a Turkmen city by all means, is under intense pressure and the efforts exerted to alter the demographic structure of the city aiming to effect the outcome of the referendum in favour of the Iraqi Kurds were successful", Ergec said.
Ergec said they would reject a census or a referendum to be held should the normalisation process be mishandled bearing injustice for Turkmens.
"We will use all the rights at our disposition and continue our struggle. Our primary goal is to save our capital Kirkuk. An unwanted outcome in Kirkuk will cause the Turkmen land to be divided and Turkmen community to collapse. Therefore our aim is to at least earn Kirkuk a special status," said Ergec.
Ergec said their talks with the U.S and UN officials in Washington D.C and New York took place in a positive atmosphere. Ergec indicated that they reiterated during talks that Kirkuk was a Turkmen city and received positive responses for the most part. The New Anatolian

Monday, June 25, 2007

Assembly of Turkish American Associations Honorable Dr. Sadettin Ergeç


Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA)

Public Outreach Committee
The ATAA Capitol Forum and National Speakers Circuit
Proudly Presents
Honorable Dr. Sadettin Ergeç,

Member of the Parliament of the Republic of Iraq,

Chairman of the Iraqi Turkmen Front
To Discuss
Iraqi Unity and Solidarity Based on Human Rights, Equitable Sharing of Resources, and Iraqi Territorial Integrity
As of this announcement, in Iraq U.S. casualties were 3526 and the numbers of U.S. wounded were 114,000; reported Iraqi civilian deaths were 68,000; and, Turkish civilian casualties were 170, twenty more than the British military in Iraq. In addition, deep in Iraq, Turkmens, Chaldean Christians, and other defenseless indigenous groups have been subject to massacres and forced from their homes in important cities such as Kirkuk, where Kurdish leaders have been Kurdifying towns and cities with Kurds from other regions of Iraq. Honorable Dr. Sadettin Ergeç, who recently survived a terrorist attack, will be with us to discuss the dire situation and provide recommendations. He will be joined by Dr. Hegran Ahmad, ITF External Relations Director; Ahmet Muratli, ITF Ankara Representative; Asif Ismail, ITF London Representative; Jamal Mehmed Ali Allahwerede, Co-Chairman of the Iraqi Turkmen Front; and, Hisam Mustafa Taha, Member of the Iraqi Turkmen Council.
Tuesday, June 26, 200711:30 am - 1:30 pm

United States Congress

Rayburn Building, Room B340

Capitol Hill, Washington, DC
Lunch Will be Served

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Killings in Kirkuk, Fallujah, Amarah, Baghdad

Reporters Without Borders calls for special unit to protect journalists
BBSNews 2007-06-04 - BAGHDAD, (IRIN) -- Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for the creation of a special task force to protect journalists as violence claimed the lives of at least five Iraqi journalists last week.

Journalists receive training in Basra.
Image Courtesy: IRIN
For the image shown above in a larger size, please see: Journalists receive training in Basra.More BBSNews images are available in BBSNews Photos.
RSF urged the Iraqi authorities on 31 May to establish a special police unit to investigate the killings of journalists and organise awareness programmes among Iraqi security forces and the public.
"The Iraqi authorities must fulfil their duty to protect journalists," the group said in a statement on its website. "We call for the creation of a special force within the national police to identify the perpetrators and instigators of the killings of journalists."
RSF also recommended that a witness protection programme be set up with the help of Iraq's neighbours to aid investigations.
An official in the Iraqi Cabinet, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media, told IRIN that RSF's proposal had been circulating in government corridors but would be hard to implement because of the deteriorated security situation in the country.
"The government is facing big challenges right now and this kind of protection force will undermine our efforts in hunting down terrorists," the official said. "We have postponed this project until we impose our control [over the country] because we can't offer a policeman to each journalist or a patrol for a media company while their [policemen's] presence in other areas is more important."
RSF also voiced shock at the murders of four Iraqi journalists by armed groups since 26 May.
Killings in Kirkuk, Fallujah, Amarah, Baghdad
Citing Iraqi police, the group said the body of Aidan Abdullah al-Jamiji, who was in charge of Kirkuk television's Turkoman language section and was a well-known local musician, was found on 26 May in the boot of his car. The car had been torched and dumped near a cemetery in the northern city of Kirkuk.
Two days later, Mahmoud Hassib al-Kassab, editor of the weekly al-Hawadith newspaper and a member of a local Turkoman group, was shot dead outside his home in the northern part of Kirkuk.
Abdul-Rahman al-Issawi, a 34-year-old journalism professor at Baghdad University and a contributor to several newspapers, was killed on 29 May along with seven family members when gunmen stormed into his home, west of Fallujah, and opened fire.
Nizar al-Radhi, 38, an employee of the independent news agency Voices of Iraq and correspondent since last year for Radio Free Iraq, was shot dead while several of his colleagues were wounded in a drive-by shooting on 30 May as they were leaving a news conference outside the city hall of Amarah, southeast of Baghdad.
In addition, Saif M. Fakhry, a 26-year-old Associated Press cameraman, was shot dead on 31 May as he was walking to a mosque during clashes in the Sunni neighbourhood of Amiriyah in Baghdad. His death was not included in the Reporters without Borders statement.
Excluding Fakhry's death, RSF said 181 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the US-led invasion in March 2003.

Tension rises over Kirkuk

Tension rises over Kirkuk

By Kareem Zair

Azzaman, June 4, 2007

Rival minorities are at loggerheads over the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

As Kurdish leaders vow to include Kirkuk within their semi-independent enclave, other minorities in the city say they will oppose the move with all available means.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq say they would not accept any constitutional amendment to a paragraph calling for a referendum in the city.

The paragraph, known as article 140, is among the most contentious in the constitution which Iraqi Sunnis would like to see substantially revised to preserve the country’s national unity.

The Kurds want the referendum to take place at the end of the year as stipulated by the constitution because they believe they now have numerical superiority in the city.

Other ethnic minorities accuse the Kurds of attempts to change the city’s demographic structure in the years since the downfall of former leader Saddam Hussein.

“We are determined to apply article 140 of the Iraqi constitution regarding the normalization of conditions in Kirkuk,” said Talabani.

But Iraqi Turkmen and Arabs who live in the city and its suburbs are openly resisting Kurdish attempts to annex Kirkuk.

They say if the government went ahead and let the Kurds to have the city, the move would eventually backfire, fuelling further the current ethnic and sectarian strife.

Arab and Turkmen leaders have asked the government to turn Kirkuk into a special region with an administration in which the three major minorities – Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen – will have equal share.

They also want article 140 revised as part of the amendments demanded by the Iraqi parliament and mainly Sunni opposition leaders.

For the time being they would like at least the implementation of the article postponed for at least five years.

But Barzani in a joint press conference with Talabani said, “We shall not accept any postponement of that paragraph.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Iraqi Turkmen Journalist Killed In Kirkuk

Gunmen Shoot Ethnic Turkoman Newspaper Editor-in-Chief Outside his Home
05/29/2007 07:02 AM ET
By Issam Tareq Kirkuk, May 29, (VOI) – Unidentified gunmen killed the editor-in-chief of a weekly newspaper published in Kirkuk in front of his house in the predominantly-Turkoman neighborhood of al-Musalla, northern Kirkuk, a police source said."Mahmoud Hassib al-Qassab, the editor of al-Hawadeth weekly, was an ethnic Turkoman and the fourth journalist to be killed in Kirkuk this month," the source told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).Qassab was also the leader of the Movement to Rescue Turkomans. Al-Hawadeth was the first newspaper published in Kirkuk in 1962. It stopped for a while but Qassab had it re-issued after 2003.The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said at least 104 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, making Iraq the deadliest conflict for the press. About four in five journalist deaths there have been Iraqis.

Monday, April 23, 2007

the status of Kirkuk

Council Conclusions on IRAQ
2795th GENERAL AFFAIRS Council meeting
Luxembourg, 23 April 2007
The Council adopted the following conclusions:
"1. The Council reaffirms its support to a secure, stable, democratic, prosperous, and unified Iraq and reiterates its commitment to the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Iraq. It reiterates its support for the democratically elected Government of Iraq and for its efforts to restore public order, promote national reconciliation and rule of law, further economic reconstruction and engage Iraq's neighbouring states and the International Community.
2. The Council condemns in the strongest terms all forms of violence against the Iraqi population, including acts of terrorism, politically motivated or sectarian attacks, and forced displacement. It expresses its deep concern about the humanitarian and human rights situation in parts of Iraq, in particular the situation of internally displaced persons and of Iraqi refugees abroad and urges the government of Iraq to meet its responsibilities towards them. It notes the continued efforts of the multinational force to participate in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in accordance with the mandate renewed by UNSCR 1723.
3. The Council encourages the Government of Iraq to intensify its efforts towards national reconciliation. It hopes that substantial progress will be made on the review of debaathification and on the disbandment of militias, as well as against terrorism, and that appropriate measures will be taken to promote full inclusiveness. It urges all political and social groups in Iraq to pursue their demands through peaceful means and within Iraq's democratic institutions. The Council believes that fundamental decisions such as on the constitutional review, the federalism law and the status of Kirkuk, must be taken in a spirit of sincere dialogue and consensus-building if they are to serve as the basis for a peaceful and prosperous future for Iraq.
4. The Council welcomes the initiative to convene a conference of Iraq's neighbouring states with international participation in Sharm El Sheikh on 4 May, 2007. The international community, and in particular the States in the region, have a responsibility to support and promote the difficult process of national reconciliation and stabilization in Iraq, and to prevent outside interference that could undermine this process. The Council expresses its hope that the planned conference give rise to a long-term process of regional confidence building through dialogue and co-operation. The EU stands ready to actively contribute to this endeavour.
5. The Council reiterates its support for the International Compact with Iraq (ICI) and warmly welcomes the launching of the Compact at a ministerial conference in Sharm El Sheikh on 3 May, 2007. It appreciates the ambitious benchmarks set by the Government of Iraq for its economic, political, security and social reform strategies and encourages Iraq to pursue these targets with all determination. Progress towards those targets will help to further enhance the EU's engagement with Iraq. The Council reaffirms its strong support for a central role of the UN in Iraq, especially in the political, human rights and humanitarian sectors, and in facilitating international support to Iraq.
6. The Council warmly welcomes the opening of negotiations for a Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Iraq and hopes for a timely continuation of these negotiations.
7. The EU will continue to work with the Government of Iraq to better align its assistance with the priorities laid down in the ICI. The Council welcomes the decisions by the Donor Committee of the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq (IRFFI) at its meeting in Istanbul on 21 March, 2007 to assign the co-chairmanship to Iraq and Italy so as to better reflect Iraqi ownership and enhance donor visibility and to review IRFFI's terms of reference in order to align them with Iraqi priorities. This review should enable IRFFI to act as an important channel for international financial support for Iraq within the framework of the ICI.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Denmark is talking about the Turkmen

The U.S.A., Iraqi government and Kurdish politicians were protested in Denmark. A protest march was organized in Copenhagen with the participation of various Turkmen associations from different European countries. Turkmen participating from Germany, Hamburg, and Sweden’s Malmö and Orhus were among the many countries from whence Turkmen decorated the streets of Copenhagen with their sky blue and red flags, making the persecution of Turkmen in the area by Kurds and Kirkuk the conservation topic for the whole of Denmark. Iraq anti war protestors supported the Turkmen march which was broadcasted live on Denmark’s television channels. The widely discussed protest march was also carried to the headlines of Denmark’s daily papers. newspaper featured the 1000 strong Turkmen protestors and the persecution of Turkmen in Kirkuk and its environs by the Kurds. During the rally the complaints of the Turkmen and what they requested from the world’s public were voiced. The Danish protestors were sincerely interested in the Turkmen. The press release of Turkmen Political Committee was released during the Turkmen march which was attended by Sweden’s Malmo Turkmen House President Mr. Ahmet Rauf and executive board members, Hamburg Turkmen Association president mr. Fevzi Kerküklü and Board Members Cuma Hurşit, Seyit Salih, Hasan Sarıkahya, Denmark’s Orhus Turkmen Cultural Association President Mr. Murat Salih, his deputy Yıldırım Merttürkmen and other board members, Turkmen Political Committee member Mr. Mahmut Rauf and Copenhagen Iraq Turkmen Culture Association founding president Mr. Halit Tofik, Iraq caliye Turkmen member İkbal Hanım in addition to Turkmen women and nationalist Turkmen individuals. After the meeting and a meal eaten together, the Turkmen left savoring a feeling of unity and with the sense of accomplishment In addition to Danish organizations, the Copenhagen Ülkü Ocakları association supported the Turkmen’s march with over a 1000 (thousand) people to simultaneously protest the Iraqi war.
Savaş Nurettin
Special Translation : Kerkuk.NET

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New rape allegation jolts Iraq

The claim of the second woman, a Sunni member of Iraq's Turkmen minority, doesn't fit neatly into such a suspicion. Tall Afar, 50 miles from Mosul, is a town populated mostly by ethnic Turkmen, both Shiites and Sunnis.

District Commissioner Najim Abdullah Jabouri recounted the woman's story in a telephone interview with The Times.

The woman, a mother of two in her late 30s, alleges that on Feb. 8, at least eight men, mostly Iraqi soldiers, entered her home. They locked her two teenage daughters in another room, Jabouri said, and repeatedly raped her while one of them videotaped the attack. Later, the troops turned their attention to the daughters, Jabouri said. But one of the soldiers pulled out a gun and threatened to open fire if the other men touched the girls, Jabouri said.

When the soldiers left, the woman took her daughters through the streets of her neighborhood telling people to beware of the soldiers, Jabouri said. Local Sunni tribal leaders complained to police, who launched an investigation and detained eight men, said Sheik Mohammed Khalaf Hanash, leader of the Sunni Council of Tall Afar.

The alleged victim, accompanied by more than a dozen Sunni tribal leaders, went to a police station and identified the assailants, pointing out the man who protected her daughters, Hanash said. "The case has now been turned over to the courthouse," he said.

The woman has been named by Iraqi television. She had stayed out of public view until Sabreen's case made headlines.The rape claims have heightened sectarian tensions and deepened Sunnis' mistrust of the Shiite-dominated security forces. But Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, advised people to not allow the allegations to tarnish all Iraqi soldiers and police officers."Because there's two or three that are alleged to have done something wrong should not be taken and made as an allegation against the entire force," Caldwell said Wednesday. "There are brave Iraqi soldiers out there each day, both Iraqi army soldiers and Iraqi police soldiers, who are doing their mission." Human rights activists and judges said members of Hussein's security forces systematically raped female prisoners. In the Kurdish town of Sulaymaniya, rebels who stormed a security office in 1991 found videotapes of Hussein's intelligence and security officials raping women in a basement dungeon. Kurdish and Shiite female prisoners during the Hussein regime have testified in recent human rights cases against the former Iraqi president and his deputies. Their faces hidden and voices digitally altered, they have told of being raped in prison. Rapes continue, said Nomani, the human rights activist."Many women have been subject to kidnap and rape," she said. "And they don't have the courage to speak about it."She cited the case of a 16-year-old girl and her younger sister, kidnapped while walking to school in Baghdad last year. The girl managed to escape her captors, who had repeatedly raped her, but her sister has not been found. Her shamed family had to sell its house, and the girl has developed serious mental problems. "She's so depressed that she's sick," Nomani said.
daragahi@latimes.comTimes staff writer Daragahi reported from Baghdad and special correspondent Al-Zarary from Mosul.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Iraq's Turkmen leader says Iraq still under U.S. occupation

A leading Turkmen official in Iraq's Erbil province Tuesday said that Iraq remains under U.S. occupation and the Americans have the final say in all security matters, Turkey's daily New Anatolian reported.
Citing the recent U.S. arrest of Iranian officials in the heart of Erbil, Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) Erbil Provincial Chairman Nezhet Abdulgani was quoted as saying that "This proves we are still under American occupation. The decisions taken by local officials in a country under occupation are null and void."
He warned that the situation in Iraq is getting worse and the country is being divided along sectarian lines as political groups failed to reach a common understanding.
"Each state minister is linked to a sectarian group and serves their interests and thus there's no harmony," said Abdulgani.
He accused the Iraqi administration of neglecting Turkmen ethnic, saying that "we see that the administration doesn't accept us as a counterpart."
With some Turkmen population living in the autonomous Kurdish region, the Turkmen people are part of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament.
However, the ITC has been rejecting to take part in the regional parliament.
"We see today that the Turkmen deputies who entered the Kurdish regional assembly haven't achieved much," Abdulgani said.
Source: Xinhua

Friday, February 09, 2007

A gift for power

Iraq's Kurdish president is impossible to pin down. He's friends with the Americans - but also with Iran. He calls himself a Maoist - yet enjoys immense wealth. Who is Jalal Talabani? Jon Lee Anderson meets him in Baghdad.
On November 5, the day Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death, Jalal Talabani, the longtime Kurdish guerrilla leader, who is currently Iraq's president, was in Paris, on a state visit. He was installed in the sumptuous presidential suite at Le Meurice, a gold-and-marble Louis XVI hotel on the Rue de Rivoli, overlooking the Jardin des Tuileries. I watched the verdict with Talabani in his suite, on a large plasma-screen television tuned to the satellite channel Al Arabiya. He sat in a gilded chair, and his expression betrayed nothing. Soon, after a few curt words, Talabani got up and wandered off to his bedroom. One of his aides tiptoed behind him. The aide reappeared a moment later to say that Talabani was sitting in an armchair, deep in thought.

Article continues

Saddam's death sentence put Talabani in an awkward position. Saddam had been convicted for the mass killing of 146 people in the Shia village of Dujail in 1982. If he was executed, he would not face a second trial, for the 1988 Anfal campaign, in which as many as 186,000 Kurds were killed. Talabani was on the record as being opposed to capital punishment, but, according to the Iraqi constitution, one of his duties was to approve death warrants. In public statements, he had finessed this problem by saying that he would respect any decisions made by Iraq's judiciary. Still, he was in a predicament.
After a while, Talabani returned, in a better mood. He sat down next to me, but we were interrupted by the arrival of two superbly dressed Frenchmen carrying large shopping bags from Façonnable and Ermenegildo Zegna. They approached Talabani, bowed deferentially, and took a pair of dark suits from the bags. One man brandished a measuring tape, and explained that they needed His Excellency to remove some of his clothes for a fitting. Talabani stood up and began struggling to take off his jacket. A valet rushed over to help.
Talabani, who is 73 and has the fat cheeks, brush moustache and large belly of a storybook pastry chef, is renowned for his political cunning, his prodigious love of food and cigars, his sense of humour, his unflagging optimism, and his inability to keep a secret. He is known as Mam Jalal, which means Uncle Jalal in Kurdish. It is a term of both endearment and cautious deference; Talabani has a mercurial personality, with extreme mood swings. He has survived in Iraqi politics largely owing to an ability to outfox his opponents and, sometimes, his allies. Over the years, he has made deals with everyone from Saddam Hussein to Ayatollah Khomeini and both Bush presidents. He is probably one of the very few people in the world who can claim, truthfully and unapologetically, to have kissed the cheeks of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. Talabani refers to George W Bush as his "good friend" but regards Mao Zedong as his political role model.
Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Shia politician who is Iraq's national security adviser, told me, "He's very difficult to define. If you are an Islamist, he brings you Koranic verses; if you're a Marxist, he'll talk to you about Marxist-Leninist theory, dialectics and Descartes. He has a very interesting ability to speak several languages, sometimes" - he laughed - "with a very limited vocabulary. He has a lot of anecdotes and knows a lot of jokes. He is an extraordinarily generous person, and he spends like there is no tomorrow."
Rubaie mentioned a period in the 60s when Talabani was allied with Saddam. "One day he was a good friend of Saddam, and then he became a staunch enemy," he said. (In fact, Talabani flirted with Saddam twice more.) Rubaie saw nothing contradictory in this; Talabani, he said, was the ultimate pragmatist.
No other Iraqi politician has Talabani's experience, contacts, and savvy. As a result, he has made the presidency, which was meant to be more ceremonial than the prime minister's job, a powerful post. Yet this role, too, carries contradictions. After spending decades fighting for "self-determination" for Iraq's Kurds, Talabani finds himself defending Iraq's unity. He now has a choice to make: either he can be a founding father of the "new Iraq" - the elder statesman who will help rescue it from civil war - or, if Iraq falls apart, he can be a founding father of an independent Kurdish state. As always, Talabani has hedged his bets. "I am a Kurd from Iraqi Kurdistan, but now I am responsible for Iraq," he told me. "And I feel my responsibility." In another conversation, he said, "It's true that I am an Iraqi, but in the final analysis I am a Kurd."
Under Saddam, the Kurds "were facing a dictatorship in Baghdad that was launching a war of annihilation against the Kurdish people," he said. "We were in need of all kinds of support from anybody in the world. When war starts, and you participate in it, you will need support from anyone. There is no supermarket where you can go and choose your friends in a war."
In the current war, some of his unreconciled friendships have been troublesome. Iran was once one of the Kurds' greatest allies, and Talabani had planned to fly from Paris to Tehran. But he abruptly postponed the trip at the request of the Bush administration: he would have arrived in Tehran on November 6, and the prospect of pictures of America's Iraqi ally visiting Iran the day before the midterm elections made the White House uncomfortable.
In Baghdad, Talabani lives in a yellow- brick mansion on the eastern shore of the Tigris river, outside the Green Zone. Until April 2003, when Talabani seized it, the mansion belonged to Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half brother and the former chief of the secret police, who, like Saddam, was sentenced to die for his role in the Dujail massacre. (Barzan was executed on January 15, but his hanging was bungled when the rope ripped off his head.) The presidential offices are next door, in a palace that once belonged to Saddam's wife, Sajida.
Talabani's complex sits on the north side of the ramparts of the Jadiriya Bridge; on the south side is the home of his political ally Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shia leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Hakim's house is where Tariq Aziz, Saddam's deputy prime minister, once lived. The approaches on Talabani's side are heavily guarded by Kurdish peshmerga ("those who face death") fighters - Talabani commands some 50,000 peshmerga in the militia of his party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK - and on Hakim's by militiamen of the Badr Organization, his party's armed wing.
The two leaders and their militias work closely on political and security matters, though in other ways the Kurds, who are largely secular, and the Shias, who are very devout, present a sharp contrast in styles. During weeks spent in Talabani's company, I never saw him or any of his aides pray. Talabani is not averse to alcohol, either, and he enjoys playing cards with a small group of his cronies.
Talabani's wife, Hero, does not live in Baghdad with her husband. She stays in their home city of Sulaimaniya, where she runs a foundation and a television station, and publishes a newspaper. She and Talabani have two sons: one, Bafel, runs the counterinsurgency wing of his father's party; the other, Qubad, represents the autonomous Kurdish government in the US.
At home in Baghdad one morning, Talabani invited me up to his private quarters. It was early, and he was still dressed in loose-fitting pyjama bottoms and an immense yellow-and-blue striped rugby shirt. A valet brought us Nescafé stirred with sugar into a creamy mixture. (I later learned that this was "Mam Jalal style".) Talabani lit a cigar. (He favours the long ones known as Churchills.) The day before, two suicide bombers had blown themselves up at a police recruitment centre just outside the Green Zone, killing 38 potential recruits. It was the latest incident in what almost everyone but Talabani acknowledged was an accelerating sectarian war. "I don't think Iraq is on the eve of a civil war," he said stubbornly. "Day by day - and this is not an exaggeration - Sunni and Shia leaders are coming close to each other."
Iraq's main problem was not sectarianism, he said, but a terrorist war waged by Ba'athists and foreign forces such as al-Qaida. Without losing his habitual equanimity, he added that the situation had been made worse by American ineptitude, arrogance and naivety, saying: "I think the main one responsible for this was Rumsfeld" - Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had resigned days earlier. (Talabani has since welcomed President Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 American soldiers to Baghdad in a so-called "surge". He said in a statement that it showed "a new effort to improve security in Iraq" and that it "concurs and corresponds with Iraq's plans and ideas" - although some members of the government had been openly sceptical.)
After breakfast, Talabani went downstairs to deal with the affairs of the day. Half a dozen senior personnel were waiting, as they do each morning. When Talabani has an appointment elsewhere, he is driven in a BMW 7 Series armoured black saloon, preceded and followed by a sizable fleet of white Nissan Patrols carrying peshmerga guards. But, more often than not, people come to Talabani. It is a measure of his ascendancy that Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, usually comes to Talabani, rather than vice versa. Maliki is the third prime minister since 2004, while Talabani has been a constant fixture. Maliki does not have Talabani's access to American and other foreign leaders, and must often work through him. In public, Talabani tries to defer to Maliki, and he appears to wish him to succeed.
One source of Talabani's power is his wealth. Together with his old rival Massoud Barzani, who is the president of the autonomous Kurdish region, Talabani is believed to have amassed many millions of dollars in "taxes" on oil smuggled out of Iraq through Kurdistan between 1991 and 2003, when the country was under UN sanctions. And Talabani obsessively dispenses gifts, trades favours, and buys allegiances, on the assumption that, in Iraq, the richest suitor has the best chance of winning the bride.
In many ways, Talabani's behaviour and his lifestyle are those of a clandestine party boss. His private quarters are cramped, poorly lit, and undecorated, with counters cluttered with satellite phones. His indulgences are food and a large personal staff. He and the US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad have regular meetings over kallapacha, an Iraqi dish consisting of the head and stuffed intestines of a sheep. Twice a month, Talabani sends consignments of Kurdish yogurt, cheeses, honey and handmade sweets to foreign ambassadors and leading politicians.
Several of Talabani's aides told me privately about men in his entourage who, they suspected, profited from government contracts that they steered toward their friends. In this, Talabani's circle is not unusual. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish MP, is close to Talabani but is scathing about the entire government's profligacy, corruption and moral cowardice. "How does the government expect to have respect when it is closed off?" he said. "The leaders live in Saddam's palaces, and in the Green Zone, and they never go out. The prime minister and the president have discretionary funds to spend as they like of a million or more dollars a month. I think the corruption is widespread and systemic and comes from the very top . . . All of this is against a reality in which the families of killed soldiers or police are given pensions of only $100 a month."
In Maliki's government, cobbled together after four months of tortuous negotiations following the December 2005 parliamentary elections, Talabani helped make sure that many of the high-level jobs that didn't go to Shias went to Kurds. (A number of them are Talabani's friends and relatives.) One of the two deputy prime ministers is a Kurd, and Kurds head several ministries, including the foreign ministry; the minister of water resources is Talabani's brother-in-law. From the American perspective, there is simply an abundance of qualified Kurds - or, at least, many with whom the US feels comfortable.
Talabani, like many senior Iraqi politicians, views Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia militia leader whose militia is known as the Mahdi army, with a mixture of condescension and contempt. The key to weakening Sadr, Talabani said, was Iran. "If the Iranians will calm down the Mahdi army, if there will be no assassination, if these - what do you call them? - 'death squads' will be no more, then only the terrorists will remain. And if Syria will be silent, only al-Qaida will remain, and we can defeat al-Qaida very easily."
Talabani went on, "One of the main mistakes the Americans have made in fighting terrorism is tying our hands and the hands of the Shias, while at the same time the terrorists are free to do what they want. If they let us, within one week we will clean all Kirkuk and adjacent areas." (Talabani's implication was clear: "to clean" is a euphemism for wiping out your opposition, for killing or capturing your enemies.) Talabani then adopted a high-pitched, whining voice, to mimic the Americans: "'No-o, Kurds must not move to the Arab areas, this is sensitive.' If they let the Shias clean the road from Najaf to Baghdad, they can do it within days. If they permit the people of Anbar to liberate their area, they will do it, but they say, 'Ah, no, this is another kind of militia.' They don't understand the realities of Iraq. From the beginning, we have had this problem with them." He added, "Wrong plan, wrong tactic, and wrong policy."
Talabani has been involved in politics since 1946, when, at the age of 13, with Iraq still ruled by the British-installed Hashemite monarchy, he joined an underground Kurdish student organisation. It was part of a Kurdish independence movement that had taken shape during the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, after the first world war, when the victorious European powers failed to give the Kurds their own state. The division of the empire left the Kurds spread among Iraq (with an estimated four million Kurds today, or between 15% and 20% of Iraq's population), Turkey, Syria, and Iran; the greater Kurdistan envisaged by some separatists would encompass parts of each of those countries.
Talabani was born in the village of Kelkan, in south-eastern Iraqi Kurdistan; his father was a local sheikh. By 18, Talabani was the youngest member of the central committee of the Soviet-backed Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Mullah Mustafa Barzani. He studied law in Baghdad (interrupted by a period spent in hiding) and completed his obligatory service in the Iraqi army. Then, in 1961, Talabani joined an armed uprising launched by Barzani.
Three years later, Talabani split with Barzani to join a splinter group founded by Ibrahim Ahmed, the father of his future wife, Hero. Ahmed did not like the terms of Barzani's negotiations with the central government. This was a period of violent political instability in Iraq, with four presidents in the space of 10 years. After a Ba'athist coup in 1968, Talabani made a deal with Saddam, who was then the deputy president, to obtain more rights for the Kurds and to get his help in fighting Barzani - only to reconcile with Barzani when Saddam switched sides. It was the beginning of a dizzying sequence of schisms within the Kurdish rebellion, for which Talabani bears significant responsibility, and which, for a time, strengthened Saddam.
Talabani was a Marxist, and then a Maoist, attracted by "Mao's idea of popular war, of fighting in the mountains against dictatorship". He was also drawn to the anti-colonial Arab nationalist causes of the day. On trips during the 60s, he made important contacts - with Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan, Muammar Gadafy, Yasser Arafat, and President Hafez al-Assad of Syria. (In Talabani's office, there is a single photograph on the wall, of him with Assad. "He was very, very kind to me," Talabani said.)
In the mid-70s, Talabani spent time in Beirut, working with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist Palestinian guerrilla organisation. It is a murky period about which Talabani says little, but Kurds close to him suggest that he was then at his most radical, and at one point became involved in a Palestinian plot to hijack an American plane in Europe. He is said to have abandoned the scheme when a contact warned him that Mossad planned to assassinate him.
"We considered the US the enemy of the Iraqi Kurdish people," Talabani told me. Through the 80s, the US, for its part, saw the Kurds primarily as troublemakers and as pawns of Syria and Iran. In Turkey, America's Nato ally, Kurdish separatists had been waging a remorseless guerrilla war, to which the Turkish military responded with a vicious counterinsurgency campaign; thousands of Kurdish civilians were killed.
At the height of the Iran-Iraq War, Talabani once again allied himself with Saddam, then opposed him and helped Iran. Saddam's next move was the genocidal Anfal campaign. Saddam razed thousands of Kurdish villages, primarily in Talabani's territory. In the town of Halabja, between March 16 and March 17 1988, 5,000 Kurdish civilians were killed when planes dropped a lethal chemical cocktail that reportedly included mustard gas and nerve agents such as sarin, tabun and VX. Although these attacks later became part of the current Bush administration's case for overthrowing Saddam, the Reagan administration, which was supporting Saddam in his war with Iran, paid little attention; when the news of Halabja broke, the White House blamed Iran.
After Saddam's defeat in the first Gulf war, in early 1991, Shias in the south and Kurds in the north carried out uprisings. Talabani led his forces into Sulaimaniya and Kirkuk. With the US looking on, Saddam dispatched his army against them. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled, in the midst of a harsh winter, provoking a humanitarian crisis. The US and its allies declared a safe haven in the north; Talabani and Barzani (who had temporarily reconciled) began negotiating terms of settlement with Saddam.
There is an unfortunate photograph from this period that shows Talabani kissing Saddam on the cheek. "But, you know, at that time the Kurdish people were in danger of being annihilated," Talabani told me, by way of explanation. "Fighting is not playing ping-pong," Talabani said. "Fighting is killing each other. When we were fighting Saddam, we killed them, they killed us. It's something ordinary. It's war. And when we stop the war both killers sit down to receive each other. And this happens all over the world. Mao, he sat down with Chiang Kai-shek! Chiang Kai-shek killed his wife. His son! . . . But when the time comes to talk peace, they must sit down with each other. This is the process of life."
As the Kurdish "safe haven" developed into a "no fly zone" policed by US and British warplanes - a de facto Kurdish autonomous zone, beyond the authority of Saddam Hussein - Barzani and Talabani fought for pre-eminence. One dispute was over revenues from oil smuggling.
"Jalal is at his best when he is down, and is prone to making mistakes when he is up," a longtime friend of Talabani's told me. "In 1991, he was emerging as a statesman of the Kurds, internationally renowned. Instead of moving to become the nation builder that he was supposed to be, he moved into battle, playing with fire, undermining all that he built. "
In 1994, a civil war broke between the armies of Talabani and Barzani. In the midst of the fighting, Talabani provided a base for a CIA task force, and for Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile leader, who were involved in various failed coup plots. Hundreds of people died in these efforts. Talabani continued fighting Barzani, who at one point, astoundingly, invited Saddam's army into the north.
When President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, in 1998, promising American support for Iraqi opposition groups, Talabani and Barzani went to Washington and settled their differences. By then, several thousand Kurds from both sides had been killed.
Talabani called the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's report "unfair" and "unjust"; he compared it to terms imposed on a "colony". But one recommendation that he had no problem with was that President Bush begin direct talks with Syria and Iran. "It is in our interest that relations between the US and Iran about Iraq be at least normal, and if they have other differences let them take them to other parts of the world," he had told me a couple of weeks earlier. He was about to leave for his delayed trip to Iran. He was also keeping the Americans informed. "We never hide our relation with Iran from America."
Tehran was cold and grey on November 27 last year, when Talabani and his entourage arrived. Several ministers and a clutch of Iraqi journalists and photographers were on board. During our descent into Tehran, one of Talabani's junior aides came down the aisles, handing each person a form to sign. It was printed in Arabic, and, assuming it was an official landing document of some sort, I signed it, whereupon he handed me a thick envelope and moved on. Inside were 20 $100 bills. After we landed, I asked the aide why he had given me money, and he said it was "a gift from the president". I thanked him, but said that I could not accept it, and handed the envelope back. He looked very confused. A senior aide translated my explanation about "journalistic ethics", which left the man looking only more mystified. The senior aide then opened his own envelope and, whistling, counted out 50 $100 bills. "I think he's given me the same amount as the ministers," he exclaimed. "He does this from his own pocket, you know." He said that, on each trip, Talabani gives money to all those on board, including the bodyguards, the flight attendants and the pilot. We calculated that during the one-hour flight Talabani had given away about $100,000.
The contrast with Baghdad was striking. There were no armed soldiers or blast walls and security barricades to negotiate. Instead, we drove through street after street of brightly lit stores with neon signs; the sidewalks were full of people. But what most caught the attention of the Iraqis was the large number of women and girls out on the street; the sight of women in public has become a rarity in Baghdad.
The next morning, Talabani awoke early and visited the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini. Then he met Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Sources close to Talabani told me that in their talks he requested a reversal in Iran's policy - specifically, that Iran's leadership "control" Sadr's militia and ally itself instead with his government, and that it persuade its allies, including Syria, Hamas and Hizbullah, to do the same. Talabani then asked that Iran open up communications with the multinational forces in Iraq, and cooperate with the Iraqi and US governments in their security plan for Baghdad. And, perhaps most controversial from the Americans' point of view - assuming that they knew about it - Talabani proposed that Tehran and Baghdad exchange intelligence, and that Iran help train and equip Iraq's security forces.
One of the Iraqis who attended the meeting said that Talabani told Khamenei that Iraq was "at a make-or-break point and needed Iran's help". He went on: "The Supreme Leader said that he understood and would do everything he could. In return, he wanted the Iraqis to take more control over their own security from the Americans."
At a press conference, Ahmadinejad said, "Iraq is like a wounded hero." Talabani, standing next to him, said, smiling, "We can only hope that he recovers." The crowd laughed; it was a classic Mam Jalal moment. Ahmadinejad added, "The best way to support Iraq is to support its democratically elected government." However disingenuous this may have sounded under the circumstances, Talabani's officials took it as a further sign that the Iranians were prepared to help. They told me it was the first time that the Iranians had explicitly endorsed the current Iraqi government.
An Iraqi minister came up to me afterward, looking enthusiastic, and said, "You see? I told you it was more than symbolic!" After a short pause, the official leaned over and whispered excitedly, "These guys even offered us weapons!"
That evening, a senior Iraqi official said that he was worried about the "mixed messages" coming from the US. "I emphasised with the Iranians that they should not just assume that because the Americans were bogged down in Iraq they were incapable of taking action against Iran; I said that they were entirely capable of it."
Saddam's execution, which came at dawn on December 30, was a clumsy and brutish affair. As he stood on a scaffold with the noose around his neck, he was taunted by some of his hooded executioners and by spectators. Talabani was in Sulaimaniya. Hours before the execution, he had found the perfect solution to his dilemma concerning the death warrant. "It couldn't have been any better," Hiwa Osman, his media adviser, explained. "He found that in cases of international war crimes the constitution did not give him the authority to alter the court's ruling. In a way, it was a blessing from the sky, and it solved his ethical dilemma."
As for Talabani's reaction to the execution, Osman said: "Remember what he did in Paris when the death sentence was announced, and he went into his bedroom for an hour or so? This time, it lasted three or four days. No one saw him".
© 2007 Jon Lee Anderson
· Jon Lee Anderson is the author of The Fall of Baghdad, The Lion's Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan and Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Announcement from a Turkmen member in Kerkuk Council 27.01.2007
To all the International human rights organizations and United Nations authoritiesIn the present difficult situation of the Kerkuk city, which hosted different communities for centuries, is severely deteriorating. With the approach of the referendum which determines the fate of the city, a fierce deliberated plan is carried out to force the original inhabitants from Turkmen and Arabs to leave their city. • Bombing of the Turkmen shops, assassinations and kidnappings are acutely increased,• Threatening Turkmen businessmen, staffs (physicians and engineers), Directors in governmental offices and shop owners to pay huge amount of money or they will be killed. This makes a large number of them to run off the city.Worth noting that the militant Kurdish Pashmargas supported by occupation authorities dominate the police, security and military system of Kerkuk regionWe call the international community, regional powers and the United Nations to interfere for the sake of the Kerkuk inhabitants to prevent the expected massive deportation of non Kurdish inhabitants of Kerkuk city.

Friday, January 19, 2007


By Ziyat Köprülü

In the first days of 2007, the pens that composed articles whether Saddam Hussein’s execution was right or wrong have begun competing with each other in a subjective and rapid race so as to prove the perspective of their respective owners. Some expressed their doubts regarding the fairness of the trial and the eventual verdict, and considered him a “martyr”. Others supported it and stated that he deserved the punishment, reminding the murders he had committed and the inhumane practices he had carried out.

Following these perspectives I eventually read several articles advocating both views respectively. I discussed the issue with several friends and associates who knew Saddam’s murders closely, and non-Iraqis who were not familiar with these practices, as well. I do not have any reproach against people who are not aware of what this tyrant had done to his people and even to his closest circle. However, what upsets me is that a movie clip shorter than three minutes has reached its objective and impressed this miserable people, making them forget 35 years of oppression, tyranny and displacement! Thus, the “plotter” reached its objective and managed to provoke sectarianism among Iraqi people and to ignite the fuse of conflict.

However, an article written by Dr. Sahib Al Hakim, a member of the UN Human Rights Commission, World Peace Envoy and the Rapporteur of the Iraqi Human Rights Association, for whom I harbor deep affection and respect due to his scientific efforts in the field of human rights and the articles he has written, was too much for me. The “subjective article”, titled “From Al Awja to a Pit and the Gallows: Quick Excerpts from the Historical Flow of Certain Murders Committed by Saddam between 1937 and 2006”, he wrote on January 01, 2007 while he was in Mecca (fulfilling his Hajj duty) disappointed me. In this article, Dr. Sahib Al Hakim handled certain practices of Saddam Hussein and his group, and tried to justify the verdict given against him. However, he did not mention the sufferings of the Turkmen people from the hands of this tyrant, other than citing the name of a female martyr. Yet, he is one of the individuals who know the suffering of the Turkmen very well and his archive is highly rich when it comes to such documents. Should not this human rights advocate in Iraq have been much more impartial and reflected the picture of this dark era in the history of Iraq “altogether”, without any discrimination, so as to display the sufferings of all religious and ethnic elements in Iraq from the hands of this tyrant and his practices? I hope this friendly criticism of mine against Dr. Sahib Al Hakim will become a good opportunity for him to search his archives thoroughly and to correct his unintentional mistake. However, just to remind you, I would like to list briefly the practices of Saddam Hussein and his dirty regime against the Turkmen in Iraq so as to make everyone remember them and to make the ones who are going to hear them for the first time (!) to memorize them:

1. Individual and massive detentions, forced migrations, exiles, tortures and the death and imprisonment sentences given by Revolutionary Courts, found out by political and non-governmental Turkmen organizations and UN rapporteurs, and issued in the following reports:

1.1. The UN Human Rights Commission’s reports prepared according to resolutions 74/1994 of 06.03.1991 and 74/1993 of 25.02.1994.

1.2. The reports of The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).

1.3. The report of the Iraqi National Turkmen Party dated September 1994.

1.4. Statements and reports issued by the Iraqi Turkmen Front at different times.

1.5. The execution documents handed over to the families of the executed individuals.

1.6. The reports of the Iraqi Turkmen Center of Human Rights Studies.

1.7. The reports on violations of human rights drafted by the Turkmeneli Cooperation and Culture Foundation.

1.8. The case file 273 dated 06.02.2005, containing the murders committed by the regime and its collaborators against this peaceful nation and the list of executions containing almost a thousand names, submitted to the related court in Baghdad.

2. The decisions of the Iraqi Revolutionary Council, signed by Saddam Hussein, prepared at different times on the initiatives to change the demographic structure of Turkmen regions and land expropriations there… Let us list some of those decisions issued by the official gazette of Iraq:

2.1. The decision 1391 issued in the official gazette no. 2856 dated 02.11.1981.

2.2. The decision 418 issued in the official gazette no. 2990 dated 23.04.1984.

2.3. The decision 1081 issued in the official gazette no. 3015 dated 15.11.1984.

3. The voice tape of suspect Ali Hassan Al Majid, nicknamed “Chemical Ali”, during a meeting of the high level leaders of the Baath Party’s northern region. This tape openly reveals the hidden grudge that the tyrant and his regime had developed against the Turkmen. They were talking about the execution of more than 100 Turkmen in the village of Bashir. Excerpts from this tape have been published by several newspapers/magazines and broadcasted by certain radio stations.

4. Citizens applying to government institutions were required to present a document stating their nationality and forced to change their nationality from “Turkmen” to “Arab” in census offices.

5. Mass murders committed in Tazakhormatu, Tuzkhurmatu and Altunkupri in March 1991… The regime forced the Turkmen and the Kurds to migrate to northern Iraq collectively at that time. Then, the Republican Guards Units loyal to Saddam started to bombard Kirkuk and its vicinity, supported by tank and artillery units and helicopters. They also attacked the town of Tazakhormatu south of Kirkuk, the Altunkupri district north of Kirkuk and the Tuzkhurmatu District of the Salahaddin Province. Afterwards, they executed several Turkmen by shooting, the elderly, the youngsters, children and all. The graveyards of those martyrs are the most obvious proofs of those murders.

6. Several Turkmen villages have been burned down without any reason and lands belonging to the Turkmen have been expropriated. For example, villages like Bashir, Yayci, Turkalan, Omer Mendan, Topuzova and Bastamli. Moreover, Eski Tisin suburb of Kirkuk was completely burned down in 1987 and the residents were forced to migrate without any compensation.

All those we mentioned constitute only a few examples of the inhumane practices that our people were subjected to during the Saddam regime. As these brief samples can clearly reveal, all those practices against the Turkmen were against international legislations/practices and the articles of the International Declaration of Human Rights! Thus, this tyrant, whose death turned to the detriment of the Iraqi people like his life did in the past, greatly deserved the capital punishment.

The upsetting fact is that the occupiers that supported and exceedingly assisted the cruel regime in Iraq, and rendered it impossible for the Iraqi people to topple this bloody dictator! Besides, the occupiers forced the Iraqi people to support him and to invite him to cut the tentacles of this overwhelming octopus. However, it is more upsetting that this people could only pull down this tyrant’s statue by the support and assistance of American troops!... The Iraqi people should have captured him on their own, tried him and then hanged him… If this had been the case, it would have been great. Meanwhile, The United States of America gave everyone, the leaders of regional countries in particular, a great lesson indeed. “I have nothing to tell you as long as you fulfill my orders, but do not ever stop obeying me. Otherwise, your end will be just like Saddam’s, and the fate of your people will be just like the end of the Iraqi people…!” said the United States.

Well… Against this situation, we can do nothing but take refuge in God’s mercy and beg Him “to render this land safe…”.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

UN warns of looming crisis in Kirkuk

UN warns of looming crisis in Kirkuk

Mark Tran
Tuesday January 16, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

The deteriorating human rights situation in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq could be a prelude to a looming crisis in the Kurdish region, the UN warned today.
In its bi-monthly human rights report on Iraq, the UN voiced concerns at reports of mistreatment of ethnic Turkmen and Arabs by the Kurdish majority.

"They face increasing threats, intimidations and detentions, often in KRG (Kurdish regional government) facilities run by Kurdish intelligence and security forces," the report said. "Such violations may well be the prelude of a looming crisis in Kirkuk in the coming months."

While media attention has focused on Baghdad, which accounts for most of Iraq's bloodletting, Kirkuk could be lurching towards its own mini-crisis.

Kirkuk, an ancient city once part of the Ottoman empire, has a large minority of ethnic Turks as well as Christians, Shias and Sunnis, Armenians and Assyrians. The city lies just south of the autonomous Kurdish region stretching across Iraq's north-east.

Under Iraq's new constitution, a local referendum is to be held this year to determine whether Kirkuk should join the Kurdistan regional confederacy (the united administration of Irbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniya provinces). Because of its oil wealth, the Kurds covet the city and want it to become their regional capital.

It is a prospect that horrifies Turkey, which fears that a strong Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq with Kirkuk's oil wealth would galvanise separatist Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey who have been fighting since 1984 for autonomy.

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, today warned Iraqi Kurdish groups against trying to seize control of Kirkuk. He said Turkey would not stand by amid growing ethnic tensions, prompting accusations of interference by Iraqi Kurds.

The Kurdish coalition bloc in the Iraqi parliament today read a statement during a session accusing Turkey of interfering in Iraqi affairs. "As we condemn this interference in Iraqi affairs by the Turkish government, we call upon the parliament to issue a statement condemning them as well," the coalition bloc said.

But Mr Erdogan this week reminded the Kurds that Turkey sheltered more than 500,000 Iraqi Kurdish refugees who escaped Iraq's ruthless campaign following a failed Kurdish insurgency in early 1991.

"Turkey did not remain indifferent to the plight of Kurdish peshmergas who were escaping oppression and death," he said. "Today, it will not remain indifferent to the Turkmens, Arabs ... in Kirkuk."

Military intervention by Turkey, a Nato ally of the US in northern Iraq, is unlikely, but Ankara could apply economic pressure as potential oil exports from Kirkuk have to go overland through Turkey.

Today's UN report said Kirkuk is heavily controlled by security forces and Kurdish militias - or peshmergas - who exercise to a large degree effective control of the city. Most senior official positions are occupied by Kurds or their allies from other ethnic groups.

Under Saddam Hussein, Baghdad imposed an "Arabisation" policy on Kirkuk, a massive social engineering project that drove many Kurds from their homes to be replaced by Arabs, mostly Shias from the south. Since the US invasion of 2003, many Kurds have returned and Turkmen and Arabs in the city now complain of reverse "ethnic cleansing".

"Even though violence is not on the same level as in Baghdad," the UN said, "ongoing human rights violations and the surge of violent acts which have significantly increased since 2003 are widely believed to be the doing of perpetrators and instigators from inside and outside Iraq and Kirkuk. Lately and due to the continuing insecurity, ethnic groups have moved closer to their own communities for protection."

With tension rising in Kirkuk, the referendum is shaping up to be a key moment for the Kurdish region. The Iraq Study Group, chaired by former secretary of state James Baker, warned last month in its report of the "great risk" of the referendum sparking further violence in Kirkuk and recommended postponing it for a year.

The Kurds would hardly welcome any such delay and might well annex the city precipitating a crisis with Turkey.