Thursday, February 08, 2007

Arabs protest in Kirkuk over forced 'repatriation'

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution calls for "normalizing the status" of Kirkuk. The article threatens the expulsion of some 7,000 Arab families from the oil-rich city ahead of a referendum determining whether Kirkuk should be annexed to the Kurdish provinces.

BAGHDAD, 7 February (IRIN) - Nearly 500 Arabs took to the streets on Wednesday morning in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, some 290km north of the capital, Baghdad, denouncing a decision by a governmental committee to relocate tens of thousands of mostly Shi'ite Arabs currently living in the city.

"We vehemently reject this decision. We will not leave Kirkuk by force or without force. If they [Kurds] try to force us out of the city, then there will be dangerous reactions against them," said Sheikh Raad al-Najafi, 37, an Arab Shi'ite religious cleric at the Kirkuk office of the radical Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

"Implementing this decision is against the benefit of Iraq in general, and Kirkuk in particular, in terms of security and stability," al-Najafi told IRIN in a telephone interview while he was taking part in the demonstration.

On Sunday, the Iraqi Higher Committee for the Normalisation of Kirkuk ruled that Arabs who moved to the city from other parts of Iraq after 14 July 1968 – when the Ba'athist party of former president Saddam Hussein came to power - would be returned to their original towns and given monetary compensation.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

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