Demographic tensions and allegations are heating up in the contested province of Kirkuk, even as local elections in that oil-rich, ethnically diverse governorate have been postponed to an unspecified time after the upcoming January polls in other provinces.
Residents told IraqSlogger that Arab villagers from areas outside Kirkuk are avoiding travel into the city center as some residents of the city complain that Kurdish intelligence forces, known as Asayish, operating in the city center, are harassing Arab and Turkmen in central Kirkuk. One Arab student told IraqSlogger that the Asayish recently held him for a period of four days without explanations after detaining him in Kirkuk.
Iraq's two leading Kurdish parties openly seek to annex the mixed oil-rich area to the Kurdistan autonomous zone to the north, a move staunchly opposed by Turkmen and Arabs in the city, as well as by Iraq's neighbors.
Meanwhile, locals tell IraqSlogger that Arab and Turkmen parties are distributing reproductions of old maps of Kirkuk in pamphlets that address their claims to the city. On the basis of the maps, Kirkukis say that the parties claim that Kirkuk is not a Kurdish city.
Other literature circulating in Kirkuk has originated from what residents describe as armed Islamic groups who threaten to use arms against the Kurds "to defend the Arab identity of Kirkuk."
Although local elections in Kirkuk have been postponed as part of the compromise allowing elections in other Iraqi provinces to go forward in January, residents say that the anticipation of an upcoming poll continues to roil local politics.
Arab and Turkmen Kirkukis allege that former military bases of the Iraqi army around Kirkuk are now filling up with Kurdish families who claim they were displaced from the province during the rule of Saddam Hussein. Kurdish parties have defended the inflow of Kurds to the province, saying that these individuals are only returning to the area from which they were deported by the old regime.
The Kurdish head of the Kirkuk provincial council, Rizkar Ali, said earlier this month that the Kurdish deportees are taking residence in the military bases with on the basis of an agreement of the American and British consulates in Kirkuk, al-Hayat reported in Arabic.
However, Arab and Turkmen Iraqis in the city see the influx of Kurds as a ploy by the Kurdish parties to stack the demography of Kirkuk in favor of Kurdish interests in the upcoming elections. Members of these groups also allege that Kurds from outside the province have purchased property in the province, an illegal move under current law, using the names of Kirkuk residents.
The Arab political bloc in the Kirkuk provincial council recently called for the vote in Kirkuk, whenever it happens, to be based on the Iraqi census held in 1977, which showed Arabs as the largest group in the city. Kurds reject this census as unreliable.
Members of IraqSlogger's network of Iraqi staff contributed to this report but choose to remain anonymous for security reasons.