Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kirkuk Pledges Unity in Wake of Attack

Ethnic tensions may exist, but local leaders say they won’t let extremists divide the population.
By an IWPR-trained
Kirkuk leaders have vowed that the city will remain united despite a recent suicide bombing that appeared to target reconciliation efforts.



Once called “Little Iraq” due to its mixed population of Turkomans, Arabs, Kurds and nearly all of Iraq’s religious communities, Kirkuk is now often referred to as a “powder keg”, with fears of an explosive power struggle over control of the oil-rich city.



The December 11 suicide bombing of a popular restaurant just outside of the city, where Kurdish, Arab and Turkoman leaders had met to discuss reconciliation efforts, shook Kirkuk residents and stoked security fears.



The attack, which killed at least 55 people and injured another 120, including party deputies, women and children, was the deadliest bombing that Iraq has witnessed in six months.



The United States and Iraqi authorities blamed the attack on al-Qaeda. But Kirkuk leaders said it would not thwart reconciliation efforts. They have expressed concern, though, over how such a massive bombing could be carried out against prominent representatives of the local population.



The meeting was the first target, said Refat Abdullah, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, office in Kirkuk, but the bomber was also trying “to create a state of tension and chaos between Kirkuk’s different sects and ethnicities … but they failed because all of the groups in Kirkuk denounced the operation, and rushed to help the victims of the explosion, without exception”.



Torhan al-Mufti, a Turkoman leader and member of Kirkuk provincial council, said the outrage would not divide Kirkukis, noting that the city’s diverse communities had a long history of coexistence. However, like Abdullah, he said the incident was worrying from a security perspective. It “revealed a big hole in Kirkuk’s security”, he insisted.



While ethnic tensions exist, many Kirkuk residents and analysts say that locals want to live in harmony and blame groups that are considered non-Iraqi forces – such as al-Qaeda – for trying to divide the city.



Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, leader of the PUK, sponsored the meeting apparently targeted by the bombers. Talabani was scheduled to meet with local leaders later that day in Kirkuk. His pre-announced visit and the weak security at the restaurant – patrons were not searched – were mistakes, said Muhammad Kamal, a Kurdistan Democratic Party representative who sits on the Kirkuk provincial council.



Kamal called the attack “a blow to the security forces in the city that has shaken the security and political situation in Kirkuk”.



Kirkuk has witnessed political violence, including attacks on party offices, as well as devastating bomb attacks in commercial areas over the past few years. Arabs, Turkomans and Kurds all lay claim to Kirkuk.



Provincial council elections, which will be held around the country in January, were delayed in Kirkuk due to fears the polls could spark political violence.



Qais Hamid, a political analyst in Kirkuk, said the attack was “planned by people who definitely don’t want the city to be safe and stable” and that many groups want to “keep the political parties in a state of conflict”.



He said stability “could bring life to the city again, especially because rival political parties were trying to reach a kind of compromise” on who will govern Kirkuk.



Kirkukis, he said, have not allowed the recent bombing to affect them, “going back to their daily lives after an explosion that touched the souls of Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans and Christians”.