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Iraqi Turkmen town seeks to join Kurdistan Region

Following years of perceived neglect by Baghdad, some in the Iraqi town of Tuz Khormato have called for joining the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
A man holds rosary beads as he inspects the ruins of a popular coffee shop after Sunday night's suicide bomb attack in the town of Tuz Khurmatu, 170 km (106 miles) north of Baghdad, July 17, 2006. Police said the attack killed 21 people. REUTERS/Slahaldeen Rasheed           (IRAQ) - RTR1FKIH

Minorities in Iraq are once again demanding autonomous areas or to have their districts joined to other provinces as a wave of attacks targets them in Salahuddin, home to a Turkmen minority, and Ninevah, home to minorities such as the Christians and the Shabak.

Tuz Khormato, located in Salahuddin province, shocked everyone when the district council announced during a Nov. 25 news conference that it wanted the district to join Kirkuk province, instead of being affiliated with Salahuddin. Tuz Khormato has not been calm for years, and on a monthly basis the district is subject to bombings carried out by al-Qaeda or other groups the central government knows nothing about.

The provincial council made this call in light of the failure of both the Salahuddin provincial administration and the security agencies to protect the lives of citizens and to prevent terrorist groups from targeting them.

Vice President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Kosrat Rasul Ali welcomed this decision and stressed that he is in favor of returning the town to the province of Kirkuk.

The predominantly Turkmen district of Tuz Khormato was part of Kirkuk province until 1976. The regime of Saddam Hussein, however, detached the district from Kirkuk province from its four sides — Amerli, Bestamli, Suleiman Beik and Qadri Kerm — and appended it to Salahuddin province, which had been recently created under a presidential decree.

Political blocs had always called for declaring Tuz Khormato a disaster zone due to it being continuously bombed by al-Qaeda, as well as the lack of medical and educational services. Ali Al-Shalah, a member of the parliamentary State of Law Coalition, described the issue of returning Tuz Khormato to Kirkuk as “delicate.”

Shalah told Al-Monitor, “All of the political blocs need to give their opinion about this issue,” and stressed, “The opinions of those living in Tuz Khormato should be a priority, as they are the ones affected.”

A member of the Kurdistan Alliance, Hamid Bafi, pointed out, “Tuz Khormato was previously a part of Kirkuk province, and [this issue] must be reviewed within the framework of the administrative border law for these regions. These borders were manipulated by the former regime based on sectarian, political, ethnic and non-administrative grounds.”

Bafi told Al-Monitor, “Tuz Khormato is one of the disputed areas,” and pointed out, “The central government ought to address these areas, which have been unfairly treated by the former regime through Article 140 of the Constitution.”

Article 140, which relates to resolving the issue of Kirkuk and determining whether it will join the Iraqi Kurdistan Region as well as the powers of the Iraqi president, the powers of the Kurdistan Region and the distribution of wealth, is one of the most prominent points of contention between the central government in Baghdad and the regional government in Erbil.

“The central government should make haste to address this issue so that the residents can determine their fate,” Bafi said. He suggested, “Things staying the same in this region will not lead to the stability of Iraq,” adding, “This may affect relations between the Kurdistan Region and [our] brothers in Baghdad.”

Legal expert Tareq Harb told Al-Monitor, “No district council or provincial council in Iraq should issue a resolution to separate or attach a part of a province to or from another province, as district councils are not elected, but rather appointed.”

Meanwhile, Fawzi Akram Tarzi, a member of the National Turkmen Alliance, which is part of the Ahrar bloc, said, “Calling for attaching Tuz Khormato to Kirkuk is aimed at putting pressure on the central government, in order to rescue the district from the disaster it is experiencing.”

Tarzi told Al-Monitor, “The Turkmen have been the target of genocide since 2003 up to this very day, across all of the Turkmen regions without exception, especially in the ‘disaster zone’ of Tuz Khormato.” He indicated, “Some people in Tuz Khormato want to turn this district into a province in order to secure infrastructure, among other things.”

On Nov. 25, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani formed a higher committee to discuss the implications of the security situation in Tuz Khormato, and stressed that the government will do all it can to maintain security in the district. A Turkmen deputy, however, accused him of neglecting the district’s security.

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