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Kurds Targeted by Insurgents

Report from Kurdish regional officials suggests the insurgents are picking off Kurds for political and ethnic reasons.
By Rebaz Mahmood

Figures collected by officials in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region suggest that Kurds both inside and outside the semi-autonomous area are being killed and assaulted by insurgents as part of a deliberate campaign.

At least 130 Kurds were killed in attacks in the Sulaimaniyah governorate and in Kirkuk last year, according to an internal report prepared by the Kurdistan Regional Government of Sulaimaniyah.

Hoshyar Ahmed, director-general of the Kurdistan Ministry of Human Rights, said the true number of victims was probably much higher because the report only covered areas either directly controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, or within its broader sphere of influence.

The PUK runs the Sulaimaniyah governorate, one of the three provinces that make up the Kurdish-administered region, and enjoys influence in Kirkuk, which is not part of the region but has a substantial Kurdish population. The report does not survey the situation in the other Kurdish provinces - Dahuk and Arbil - which are run by an administration controlled by the other big political force, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP.

Ahmed said extremist groups are targeting Kurds both in Kirkuk and in other flashpoint towns such as Mosul, Tikrit and Hawija. Many of the killings involved kidnappings and beheadings. He said his ministry had sent staff members into these high-risk areas to investigate and verify the reports of violence against Kurds.

A student at the University of Sulaimaniyah described the ordeal that he – unlike most people who are kidnapped – survived. Speaking on condition that he would not be named, the man told how ten masked insurgents captured him and some friends on June 24, 2004 in Baaqubah, the main city of Diyala province east of Baghdad.

“When they discovered we were Kurds, they started beating us and called out our [Kurdish] leaders’ names,” he said. The student was released four days later after paying his abductors 20,000 US dollars.

Kurdish leaders say their community is threatened by insurgents for a range of reasons. Arif Taifoor, a senior KDP member, said he believes the insurgents see the ethnically distinct Kurds as a threat to Iraq’s Arab identity.

“These Baathists, former intelligence agents and extremist Islamists are pushing Arab nationalism under the guise of Islam, and they are concerned that Iraq should be Arab in composition,” he said.

Arbil Governor Nawzad Hadi Mawlood said the insurgents also want to punish the Kurds for cooperating with the multi-national forces, “We are allies of the Coalition forces and we have a role to play, so the extremist groups publicly tell us that they are going to annihilate us.”

Both Kurdish administrations are seeking help to bring an end to the violence, and have been talking to the human rights ministry in Baghdad, Arab tribal leaders, international organisations, and the multi-national forces.

Taifoor, who is a member of the outgoing transitional parliament, admits that political efforts to solve the problem have so far failed. He said Kurdish leaders asked Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to let the Kurdish administration take control of security on the Kirkuk-Baghdad road, but the offer was ignored.

“We travel to Baghdad in armed convoys, and sometimes I won't go there for a National Assembly meeting because of the risk on that road,” said Taifoor.

Kurdish politicians are more than likely to table the issue in the new transitional National Assembly, in which the Kurds will hold the second-highest number of seats after the Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance.

But Ahmed said he believes a solution will come only when Iraq is stable and the average citizen rejects violence and discrimination.

“It is the duty of every Iraqi who wants a federal and united Iraq to work to eradicate these violations being perpetrated against the Kurds,” he said.

Rebaz Mahmood is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.

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