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Kurdish politician proposes segregating Arabs, Kurds in Iraq

Mohsin Saadoun, an Iraqi member of parliament for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, believes Arabs and Kurds can no longer coexist in mixed villages after the Islamic State’s assault, which he says was supported by local Sunni Arabs.
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, who fled the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, take part in a demonstration at the Iraqi-Turkish border crossing in Zakho district of the Dohuk Governorate of the Iraqi Kurdistan province August 17, 2014. Demonstrators demanded protection and evacuation from Iraq to safer areas such as Europe and the United States. Iraq has been plunged into its worst violence since the peak of a sectarian civil war in 2006-2007, with Sunni fighters led by the Islamic Stat

DAHUK, Iraq — Yazidis and Muslim Kurds displaced from their homes in Mosul governorate by the Islamic State (IS) have expressed reluctance to resume life amid their Arab neighbors, many of whom they accuse of supporting the extremist group. The stories of betrayal by Arab neighbors are numerous among the internally displaced persons interviewed by Al-Monitor. Although there was praise for the Arabs who helped them, many also said they were few and that most of the Arabs supported IS.

A displaced Kurd from a village in the outskirts of Telkaif told Al-Monitor, “The difference between IS and our Arab neighbors is that IS wanted to control our region and expand its power, while our Arab neighbors — in addition to their support to IS fighters in controlling our areas — entered our houses and stole our cars and belongings. This is why we cannot live with them anymore.”

Not only do the residents of Sinjar and Zummar say that they can longer live with Arabs, but so do some politicians who grew up in mixed, Arab-Kurdish areas. Mahma Kaleel, a former Iraqi parliamentarian taking part in the fight against IS from his village of Bara, close to Sinjar, told Al-Monitor by phone, “We cannot live with them. We ask the US and the international community to establish a boundary between us and the Arabs. What IS did to us, as Yazidis, is genocide.”

Mohsin Saadoun, a three-term Iraqi legislator for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), is from Zummar, where Kurds and Arabs have coexisted for decades. He told Al-monitor, “There are about 20 villages on Zummar's outskirts, and unfortunately, most of the [residents] there sided with IS and killed our peshmerga forces.”

He also said, “I am a member of the Iraqi parliament, I come from Mosul governorate, and I am from a mixed area. After the liberation of mixed areas from IS, we will not be able to live in a peaceful society with the Arabs who joined hands with IS. Because of what Arab tribes did to Kurds, it is impossible to live with them again in the same region.”

There are many mixed areas in Mosul where Kurds and Arabs coexist. While in some of these villages, Arabs have been living with Kurds for decades, in other areas, Arabs were relocated to Kurdish villages after construction of the Mosul Dam in the 1980s.

Since IS seized control over some Kurdish areas with the help of local Arabs, Kurdish officials and authorities have toughened their tone against Sunni Arabs. Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), declared Sept. 15 that the Arabs who assisted IS should be severely punished. This view seems to be popular among Kurdish politicians.

Saadoun asked, “How can we be neighbors again?” He told Al-Monitor that he intends to propose a plan to administratively separate Kurds from Arabs.

“We do not want to see those criminal Arabs who helped IS, but at the same time we do not want to kill them. But we, as the residents of mixed areas, will decide how to deal with them. We hope and ask the KRG to support our decisions. Arab villages should be put under an Arab district administratively and Kurds’ villages in a Kurdish district. This is the only way we can survive their scourge, as there is no possibility for Kurds and Arabs to live in the same district anymore,” he said.

Saadoun’s plan does not account for some Arab villages in Zummar and other areas that do not border another Arab district, and thus cannot be linked administratively to Arab districts. The same goes for Kurdish villages that do not border other Kurdish districts, such as Sinjar.

Saadoun recognizes the difficulty in implementing his plan, stating, “There are 20 Arab villages in Zummar. We can administratively separate 17 of them, and only three will remain. We can reach an understanding or exchange with them.”

It might also be difficult to achieve Saadoun’s plan, because not only is the KRG responsible for administering these areas, but so are the Mosul governorate and the national government. They all have a role in the decision that will shape the fate of the mixed areas after their liberation from IS.

Saadoun insists, however, that his goal can be achieved. He said Kurds residing in mixed areas will resort to the law and will prove that many Arabs from these areas brought in IS and hosted them. Saadoun acknowledged that some Arab villages did not support IS and stated, “The peshmerga forces had liberated some of these villages. The Arabs live without trouble in their villages and move freely in Kurdistan.”

Kurds and Arabs had peacefully lived together in mixed areas for decades, even through Kurdish uprisings against Saddam Hussein's regime. IS' attack on Kurdish areas has left a bitter taste for many Kurds, prompting politicians like Saadoun to try to take action to ensure that it never happens again.

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