Kurds win back control of Kirkuk after local elections
By Charles Clover in Kirkuk
May 29, 2003
Delegates from the ethnic-ally troubled Iraqi city of Kirkuk chose a Kurdish
mayor-governor yesterday in local elections supervised by US forces, returning
the city to Kurdish control following decades of forced "Arabisation" by Saddam
The elections showcased the combined might of the Kurdistan Democratic party and
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, two parties that have often been at war with each
other, but joined forces to elect Abdul Rahman Mustafa, an independent lawyer.
Mr Mustafa was sworn in as governor of Kirkuk province and will also act as
mayor of the capital city. At the ceremony he was surrounded by US officers.
US military officials in Kirkuk said they hoped the new government could take
steps to solve tension between Arabs and Kurds in the city. Some 10 days ago, 10
people were killed in communal violence.
They also hope the new government will facilitate a peaceful solution to the
problem of more than 300,000 Kurds who were forced by the previous regime to
move out and were replaced by Arabs. Many Kurds wish to return.
Mr Mustafa enjoys the support of both the PUK and KDP, which govern the Kurdish
enclave in northern Iraq set up by the allies in the 1990s.
He said he would like to seek a solution in the courts to the problem of
dispossessed Kurds. But it was clear yesterday that with the return of Kirkuk to
Kurdish control, however symbolic, events may overtake an orderly legal process.
The issue of Kirkuk raises questions about the future of a central authority in
Abdel Karim Hachi, a PUK official and member of the Kurdish parliament in Arbil,
said the PUK would be helping subsidise the return of the dispossessed Kurds to
Kirkuk from the north. He said four Kurdish territories split off from Kirkuk
and added to other provinces in order to ensure an Arab majority would "demand
to be returned to Kirkuk".
"Soon we, the Kurds, will be a majority of the citizens of Kirkuk province, and
we will demand to be rejoined to Kurdistan."
PUK and the KDP officials have said publicly that they would like Kirkuk, and
its oil resources, joined to Kurdistan within a federal Iraq.
Arab delegates to the 30-member city council complained that US forces had aided
Kurds in seeking the top post, and that the election result was a trade-off for
help the US received from the PUK and KDP during the war.
Mr Mustafa was elected by the council, which was chosen on Saturday by delegates
from Kirkuk's four ethnic groups: Arabs, Turkomen, Kurds and Assyrians.
Wasfi Aasi, a leader of the Arab delegation, said: "Our only problem with the
outcome is that it was determined in advance by the Americans."
Major Robert Gowan, public affairs officer for the 173rd Airborne Brigade in
Kirkuk, said: "I believe the council members were chosen independently, and I
believe it was the process they agreed to work with."