Cabinet endorses forced repatriation of tens of thousands of Arabs from Kirkuk; Justice minister offers resignation in protest
Above: An Iraqi soldier walks past the damaged house of a police colonel targetted by a parked car bomb Thursday in Kirkuk. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution calls for "normalizing the status" of Kirkuk, resulting in the expulsion of Arab families from the oil-rich city ahead of a referendum determining whether Kirkuk should be annexed to the Kurdish provinces. Kirkuk's population is estimated at between 700,000 and 1 million, made up of Turkimen, Arabs, Kurds and some Assyrians. There is no reliable breakdown of current percentages of each, and Kurds have poured in from other areas. Because of their boycott of the 2005 election, Arabs already have little representation in the city. Kurds control 26 of the 41 provincial council seats as well as the army, police and intelligence services. Turkey and Iran fear that if the Kurds gain control of Kirkuk, Iraq's Kurds will form their own state and Kurdish militants in the surrounding countries would increase their campaign for independence. Turkey has threatened to intervene if the Kurds take over Kirkuk. The Iraq Study Group recommended delaying the referendum.
BAGHDAD, Iraq: The Iraqi government has endorsed a decision to relocate and compensate thousands of Arabs who moved to Kirkuk as part of Saddam Hussein's campaign to push out the Kurds, an official said Saturday. The decision was a major step toward implementing a constitutional requirement to determine the status of the disputed oil-rich city by the end of the year.
Iraq's Justice Minister Hashim al-Shebli said the Cabinet agreed on Thursday to a committee's February recommendation that Arabs who moved to the city from other parts of Iraq after July 14, 1968, would be returned to their original towns and given monetary compensation.
Al-Shebli, a Sunni Arab, also confirmed he had offered his resignation on Thursday, citing differences with the government and his own political group, the secular Iraqi List, which joined Sunni Arab lawmakers in opposing the Kirkuk decision.
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