Arab Parties in Kirkuk Demand That Kurds Give Up Weapons

Article Summary
Tensions are rising in Kirkuk over the Kurds' possession of Iraqi heavy weapons left with them by the US during the 2003 invasion and subsequent war. Mahmoud Al-Tamimi reports that this development comes amid renewed sectarian tensions, as Shiite and Sunni religious endowments dispute the ownership of various religious sites.

The Arab parties in the Iraqi province of Kirkuk called on the federal government to compel the Kurds to hand over their heavy weapons. US troops initially gave the weapons to the Kurds after confiscating them from the former Iraqi army in 2003. In the meantime, the dispute continues to grow between Sunni and Shiite waqfs (religious endowments) over ownership rights to certain properties recently claimed by the Shiite waqf.

The Arab Political Council in Kirkuk issued a statement on the issue, a copy of which was obtained by Al-Hayat. It read: “the Peshmerga forces [Kurdish fighters] should not use these weapons, for it is illegal. Exploiting the weapons to serve partisan agendas might result in igniting a civil war in the disputed areas and lead to the deployment of Peshmarga forces — affiliated with the two main Kurdish parties — throughout these areas.”

Ahmad al-Ubaydi, a leading figure in the council, told Al-Hayat that “the weapons, government belongings and the spoils of war seized by the Kurds belong to the Iraqi people and to the government. Owning heavy weapons without the approval of the defense ministry is a violation of Iraqi laws and the Constitution.”

Leading tribal figures warned against the emergence of tensions in Kirkuk, which have been aroused by recent disputes between the Iraqi federal government and Arbil. Tensions also emerged when “the government ignored the dangerous situation caused after the Peshmarga and the Asayish [Kurdish security] forces took control of different areas in which both Arabs and Kurds resided.”

The weapons issue emerged just around the time when the Sunni waqf decided to claim possession over a number of religious sites. The waqf formed a committee composed of Sunni religious figures, who led a visit to the main Sunni religious authority to discuss this issue. They did so in response to claims made by the Shiite waqf upon a visit to the province’s real estate-office that a number of properties and places of worship were theirs.

Shakykh Nasir Al-Ubaydi, a Sunni religious figure in Kirkuk, accused the Shiite delegation of “raiding Kirkuk’s housing directorate with an accompanying force and compelling the employees to change the ownership of a number of religious sites from the Sunni endowment [to the Shiite endowment] without the knowledge of the governor.”

Azad Khurshid, the deputy director of the Sunni endowment, urged “the Shiite authorities to explain such actions and to clarify its stance over what happened.” He added, “the Sunni endowment in Kirkuk rejects such actions, since it is considered an attack against the religious properties of a vast segment of Kirkuk’s population.”

On the other hand, Shiite scholar Hasan Dawoud Fadil stressed that “the Shiite endowment followed legal measures" and that "the places of which it claimed possession originally belonged to the Shiites.“ He then added, “The delegation did not visit the provincial authority in Kirkuk because its members are constantly busy. This has led to a misunderstanding with our brothers in the Sunni endowment.”

Found in: waqf, sunni endowment, sunni, shiite endowment, shiite, peshmerga, kurdish heavy weapons, kirkuk province, kirkuk

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