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Kurdish Human Rights Project: This is the legacy website of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, containing reports and news pertaining to human rights issues in the Kurdish Regions for 20 years.

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Iraq: In the wake of liberation - a breakdown in law and order

Euphoria attended the liberation of Kirkuk by Kurdish peshmerga forces, but developments since then have brought ethnic and political divisions starkly to the fore. Law and order have broken down and, it has been alleged, coalition forces and the Kurdish administration have been slow to respond to a spate of lootings and other forcible appropriations of property. In addition, human rights organisations have reported a number of inter-ethnic killings and the forcible expulsion of Arab and Turcoman residents by returning Kurds.

Variously described as the "Kurds' Jerusalem", the source of Iraq's oil wealth, and a multi-ethnic tinderbox, Kirkuk's role in the new Iraq will be a critical factor in any post-war constitution and/or administration. Kirkuk holds both the promise of model inter-ethnic relations, and the threat of catastrophic civil disorder.

Joint PUK and KDP peshmerga seized the city on 10 April 2003, meeting little opposition from Iraqi forces. The continuing presence of PUK forces has led to allegations by the Kurdish Democratic Party that the PUK has breached the agreement between Kurdish and coalition forces that Kurdish groups would withdraw once the city had been taken. The KDP has accused the PUK of seizing key businesses and other assets in a ploy to wrest control of the city.

In the first few days after 10 April 2003, Turkmen groups claimed to have been attacked by Kurdish "looters", and in an angry demonstration on 11 April 2003, Turkmen men displayed the body of a boy allegedly killed by Kurds.

The Turkish government has stated that it would intervene militarily if the Kurds seize control of Kirkuk and nearby Mosul. Kirkuk and Mosul sit atop an estimated 10 billion barrels of oil. Ankara fears Kurdish control of Iraqi oil resources would accelerate the formation of a Kurdish state within northern Iraq, and fuel secessionist aspirations within the Kurdish community of south east Turkey.

Large-scale incursions by Turkish forces have not as yet transpired. But there are signs that Ankara is determined to make sure its influence is felt. US troops from the 173rd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade recently intercepted a Turkish Special Forces team dressed in civilian clothing attempting to pass into the northern city of Arbil.

Kirkuk has long been a Kurdish region - but is also home to other ethnicities, notably Turkmen and Assyrians. Ba'ath party efforts to change the demography of Iraq led to wholesale and often violent expulsion of Kurds from their homes, and the resettlement of Arab nomadic tribes from southern Iraq. Since 1991 alone, over 120,000 Kurds are thought to have been expelled from the region. There is widespread consensus that a legal mechanism to settle property claims must be established as soon as possible, and that the forced expulsion of Iraqis of Arab origin must be prevented.

The KHRP is concerned that neighbouring states, particularly Turkey, have plans to intervene in South Kurdistan to prevent Kurds from establishing further regional autonomy. The international community must allow Kurds to return to their dispossessed homes in Kirkuk. The ethnic groups within Iraq must be given the opportunity to decide for themselves how best to implement justice and democracy in the region.