Iraq: Impending Inter-Ethnic Violence in Kirkuk
- March 28 - As U.S. and coalition forces prepare an assault on
the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, U.S. forces have a responsibility
to prevent the eruption of inter-ethnic violence, Human Rights
Watch said today.
Watch said widespread reprisal killings, retaliatory forced displacement,
and other acts of violence against resettled families are possible
once tens of thousands of forcibly displaced people return to
reclaim their homes. Oil-rich Kirkuk, currently under Iraqi government
control, has been the target of U.S. aerial bombing for the last
several days. U.S. paratroopers have landed in Iraqi Kurdistan
and it is likely that U.S. and coalition ground forces will enter
the city in the near future.
a disaster waiting to happen," said Hania Mufti, London director
for the Middle East and North Africa Division, now based in Arbil.
"If a plan for the gradual and orderly return of these displaced
civilians is not drawn up soon and implemented before the ground
offensive begins, there is a real possibility that the city will
erupt into inter-ethnic violence."
Since the 1991
Gulf War, the Iraqi government has systematically expelled an
estimated 120,000 Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians from Kirkuk
and other towns and villages in this oil-rich region. Most have
settled in the Kurdish-controlled northern provinces. Meanwhile,
the Iraqi government has resettled Arab families in their place
in an attempt to reduce the political power and presence of ethnic
minorities, a process known as "Arabization."
Those who were
displaced were forced to abandon their homes, were stripped of
most of their possessions, and were deprived of any means of livelihood.
Scores of expelled Kurds and Turkomans interviewed by Human Rights
Watch during a September 2002 mission to Iraqi Kurdistan described
the relentless pressure by the state to drive them from their
homes by making their daily lives intolerable.
Watch researchers now based in Iraqi Kurdistan said the United
States has not prepared for returning displaced residents of Kirkuk.
"We have found
no evidence that U.S. political and military leaders have prepared
for the consequences of a massive influx of returnees with grievances
against those who forced them from their homes, as well as those
who now live in their homes," said Mufti.
in Ankara in March 2003, U.S., Turkish and Iraqi opposition officials
discussed the idea of creating a coalition commission to oversee
issues relating to the northern front, including the orderly return
of internally displaced people to Kirkuk. To date, however, no
such commission has been established. Kurdish officials told Human
Rights Watch that they were uncertain as to the role of their
armed forces during any eventual ground offensive on Kirkuk. Both
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mas'ud Barzani and Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani have agreed to
commit their Pesh Merga forces only with U.S. approval and under
its command. Until now, the United States has not asked for such
participation, but that position could change in the light of
Turkey's refusal to grant access to U.S. forces through its territory.
"It is paramount
that the United States immediately address the consequences of
a future assault on Kirkuk," said Mufti.
Watch urged the United States to make concrete plans for the gradual
and orderly return of forcibly displaced residents, for the control
of mass population flows, for the removal of land mines and unexploded
ordinance, and for the implementation of security measures to
deal with any outbreaks of violence.
In recent days,
Human Rights Watch researchers have met with representatives of
the Iraqi opposition, including the PUK, KDP, the Iraqi Turkoman
Front, and the Iraqi National Congress, to discuss what preparations
have been made to regulate the return of displaced families to
Kirkuk. Kurdish officials have expressed serious concern about
the potential for inter-ethnic violence in the city, but said
there was very little they could do to stop a large-scale return
since displaced families had every right to reclaim their homes
as soon as possible. Some also said that "a significant number"
of Arab families settled in Kirkuk had already left and that they
hoped their departure would mitigate any violence. However, more
recent information indicates that the Iraqi government has forcibly
returned some of these Arab families to Kirkuk and to a number
of villages in the province that were also included in the "Arabization"
Watch called on all parties to the conflict in Iraq to respect
the safety and freedom of movement rights of all Iraqi citizens,
including their right to choose a place of residence, and to move
to a place of safety either inside or outside Iraq.
humanitarian law, the U.S.-led forces have a duty to restore and
ensure public order and safety in territories under their authority
from the moment they establish effective control over them. In
order to do so, they need to devote enough personnel to ensure
public safety, grant protection to all noncombatants, and prevent
the occurrence of acts of reprisal or revenge.
Watch called upon the U.S. government and its coalition partners
to undertake, as a matter of urgency, the following measures to
prevent the possibility of inter-ethnic violence in Kirkuk:
. Call publicly
for a gradual and orderly return of internally displaced persons
to Kirkuk and other affected areas.
a commission of coalition partners to address matters relating
to the return of the former residents of Kirkuk, including the
control of population flows, the clearance of land mines and unexploded
ordinance, and the prevention of inter-ethnic strife.
. Make every
effort to secure government buildings in Kirkuk that could contain
Iraqi government documents pertaining to the "Arabization" policy,
including property deeds and nationality registration records.
Such documentation will be essential for a speedy and fair resolution
of all claims on homes and property, for family tracing and reunification
efforts and for future accountability for crimes committed by
Watch also called upon the Kurdish authorities to go beyond making
general appeals to returning families that no reprisals be carried
out against Arab families settled by the Iraqi government in Kirkuk.
The Kurdish authorities should:
. Develop a
plan, to be made public as soon as possible, for the gradual and
orderly return of displaced families to Kirkuk. For example, organizing
the return of groups of displaced civilians according to the districts
from which they were expelled.
to compile records establishing the ethnicity and place of origin
of displaced civilians, including duplicates of nationality correction
forms, confiscated expulsion orders, and ration cards.
. Provide a
public and accessible family tracing and reunification registry
Rights Watch called on the United Nations to return to northern
Iraq to assist in this and other humanitarian efforts. The United
. Draw up a
plan for the speedy dispatch of human rights monitors to Iraq,
including Kirkuk, once hostilities have ceased.
. Provide technical
and financial assistance to the Kurdish authorities to create
a central registry of displaced persons based on ethnicity, place
of origin, and property claims, as well as a public family tracing
and reunification registry and service.
a mechanism for the adjudication of disputes in Kirkuk and other
affected areas with respect to property claims and other assets.
background on the Iraqi government's "Arabization" policy of the
northern oil-rich regions including Kirkuk, see Human Rights Watch's
recent report, Iraq: Forcible Expulsion of Ethnic Minorities,
published in March 2003, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/iraq0303/.
To read recent Human Rights Watch documents on War in Iraq, please
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