The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi] Crudistan: Kurdi-Arab clashes

1) Kurd-Arab clashes imperil Iraq cease-fire
2) Americans Try to Quell Arab-Kurd Flare-Up


Kurd-Arab clashes imperil Iraq cease-fire

By Charles A. Radin, Globe Staff, 5/20/2003

IRKUK, Iraq -- A wave of village burnings, forcible evictions, and armed
clashes between Kurdish forces and Arab fighters is sweeping through
north-central Iraq in an outbreak of ethnic strife that threatens the
tenuous cease-fire imposed by the US-led coalition.

The clashes have centered on the pivotal oil-rich city of Kirkuk and could
have great influence on who wields political and economic power in Iraq.

Following fresh evictions and the burning of two Arab farm villages, Arab
irregulars attacked the regional government building in Kirkuk on Saturday,
and they fought with Kurdish forces on the streets of the city with
automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades on Sunday. Officials say at
least 10 people were killed in the violence last weekend.

Several freshly charred villages -- Albu Saraj, Jamboor, Al Behar, and
others -- were observed by reporters on both sides of the main highway
through the Kirkuk area. Residents of larger towns said efforts to eject
Arab residents forcibly are occurring daily.

Major Robert Gowan, a spokesman for the US military in Kirkuk, said, ''We
are trying not to allow any forcible evictions. We are trying to stop people
from being killed.

''We want to freeze the situation in place and have property disputes
settled by some kind of court,'' he said. ''But this is a very tough,
emotional issue.''

Hoshyar Zebari, director of international relations for the Kurdistan
Democratic Party, the dominant political force in the conflict area, said
American intervention is ''a point of tension between us and the coalition

''Unfortunately, they do not comprehend the sensitivity of this process of
Arabization'' that was pushed with steadily increasing force during nearly
40 years of Ba'ath Party rule in Iraq, he said. ''It was ethnic cleansing,

Zebari said the Arab settlers who were pushed out immediately after the
recent war ''are being brought back with the mighty power of the United

''This is going to be a flashpoint issue. It is very tense,'' Zebari said.

Arabization of Kurdish areas began with the Ba'ath Party's rise to power in
1963, according to Rezgar Ali, a member of the Kirkuk City Council and the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK. The new rulers of Iraq formed their
army primarily from Arab tribes and clans, looted and burned Kurdish
villages, and killed many young Kurdish men.

''I was one year and six months old. We fled to the mountains with nothing
but the clothes on our backs,'' Ali said.

The policy became official soon after Saddam Hussein took control in 1979.
Poor families in Baghdad and other central cities were offered 10,000 Iraqi
dinars -- a huge sum in those days -- and guarantees of housing and
employment if they moved north.

Arabization intensified in the aftermath of the Anfal campaign, when Ba'ath
forces killed more than 100,000 Kurds, systematically slaughtering men and
boys near fighting age and killing women and young children as well. The
campaign intensified again following the Kurdish rebellion after the 1991
Gulf War.

Knowledge of this history, Ali said, is necessary to understand the current
atmosphere, in which ''some of the Kurds . . . burned [Arab] villages as
revenge for the history of injustice and so the Arabs could not come back to
these villages.''

Although many of the burned sites have been marked with PUK letters, it
''does not mean an official came and wrote it,'' Ali said. He insisted that
Arabs who settled in Kurdish areas ''go back where they originally came from
. . . we don't want revenge on the settlers.''

The ethnic clashes are occurring only days before 300 community leaders are
scheduled to elect a 30-member city council that will appoint a mayor, a
crucial step in the attempts by the US-led coalition to foster democracy in

Amid the smoldering ruins of Albu Saraj, an Arab village that until 2 1/2
weeks ago was home to an estimated 750 people, Naji Mizeyal told how his
clan moved north 35 years ago, when he was 11.

''The whole clan came at once, about 20 families,'' Mizeyal said. ''We had
nothing. We lived in tents and built this village.'' The clan became
prosperous, growing wheat, barley, corn, and sesame.

Around May 1, Mizeyal said, Kurds from a nearby village blockaded their only
road and confiscated cars. They began shooting at the Arabs at night. After
two women and four children were killed, he said, the village was evacuated.
The Kurds, accompanied by peshmerga fighters, began coming at night to burn

A delegation from Albu Saraj that tried to open talks was fired upon several
days later, and two members of the group were killed, he said. Then a
message was sent to the Arabs that no one would bother them if they
returned. A group of more than 30 men went -- and was fired upon.

The Albu Saraj residents notified American troops in the area, who, Mizeyal
says, ''wrote a report and told the neighboring village they should not
shoot at us anymore. They did not obey.''

The former Albu Saraj residents are now dispersed in the area, their
youngest children sheltering in Arab villages that Mizeyal said ''are well
protected,'' while the adults and the older children live ''in tents . . .
in the wilderness. There is no water, no electricity. There is no food.''

Ahmad Jalil, 23, has not been chased out of Tawuq, a major town south of
Kirkuk, but it is likely he will be soon. His is the last of 50 houses in
Tawuq still occupied by families who moved in during the Arabization.

''People have been threatening me and painting PUK on my house . . .
shooting in the air, for a week now,'' Jalil said. ''They've gone through
the whole neighborhood. The latest family to go took off this morning.

''Where will we go?'' the young mason said anxiously. ''I came here when I
was seven years old. I didn't know there was such a thing as Arabization

''This is my only home. My father died here. All my brothers were born here.
I am taking care of six orphans. Where will we go?''

Qassem Abdullah, also 23, stood close by. He and Jalil grew up together in
Tawuq. They went to the same school and played football. Sometimes they work
together. But that doesn't affect Abdullah's feelings about Arabization. His
friend has to go.

''The people who are coming back from Kurdistan need their houses back,''
Abdullah said. ''The people who came through Arabization should leave. It is
not personal. We will still be friends.''

Charles A. Radin can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 5/20/2003.
 Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.



Americans Try to Quell Arab-Kurd Flare-Up


EEHA, Iraq, May 19 - American troops trying to quell ethnic clashes in
northern Iraq came under fire on Sunday night, as tensions between Arabs and
Kurds continued to simmer, increasing the dangers faced by troops charged
with keeping the peace.

One soldier was injured in the firefight, which followed clashes in Kirkuk
on Saturday that left at least nine people dead. On Sunday in Erbil, in a
move that could deepen hostility between the groups, the Kurdish regional
parliament passed a toughly worded law that would "cancel the history of
Arabization in Kurdistan."

Under the law, non-Kurds who came to three northern cities during Saddam
Hussein's campaign to populate the north with Arabs, would be forced to
leave. The law gives no specifics on how it would be carried out.

The American soldiers who were attacked Sunday were on their way to Hawija,
about 20 miles from Kirkuk, thought to be the hometown of many of the Arab
men involved in the clashes on Saturday.

Capt. Joel Fischer of the First Infantry Division said that Arabs who took
part in the clashes in Kirkuk were armed and that interviews with men
stopped at vehicle checkpoints over the weekend revealed that many of them
had come from Hawija.

But the trip to search and secure the town proved more difficult than the
soldiers had expected. On the road into Hawija, about 9 p.m., troops from
the First Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade stopped for a
break at this village. Suddenly, armed men appeared in a barley field along
the dark country road.

"All of a sudden, the town erupted in gunfire," said Lt. Ryan Williams, a
member of the approximately 35-man task force. Seeha is about eight miles
from Hawija.

The fighting continued for about an hour, with the American soldiers taking
heavy fire during the first 30 minutes. Even after reinforcement tanks
rolled in, the men from the village kept up their fire for 30 minutes more,
Captain Fischer said.

One American soldier was shot twice, but he was not critically wounded. A
bullet lodged in his protective vest, and another in his body. He was
evacuated in a medical helicopter. Even after two Apache helicopters flew in
to give support from the air, the convoy could not move forward. It was not
until after 11 p.m. that troops were finally able to continue toward Hawija.

"They were good shots," Captain Fischer said in an interview in Kirkuk after
the troops returned from the operation. "There was a high volume of fire,
and it was fairly accurate. It was coordinated. I heard reports of tracer
rounds being fired as we moved forward."

The fight highlighted the difficulties American troops face as they try to
pick their way through ethnic disputes. They must strike a balance between
Arabs and Kurds, sometimes without knowing whom they are fighting. This
weekend, for example, fliers were distributed by an unknown group in an Arab
area, warning residents to leave or be forced out.

"You just need to be out there and see what's going on," Captain Fischer
said. "Then you determine where to be out in force. If you go out in force
all the time, it loses its effect."

The exhausted battalion finally reached Hawija in the early morning hours
today. They set up several checkpoints on the main roads in and out of the
town and began checking each passing car for weapons. By midmorning today a
serpentine line of cars waiting to be searched snaked along one of the main
roads into the village.

"The word is out that Americans have come to check for weapons," said Sgt.
Mark Douglas of the First Infantry Division. "There's a lot of money coming
through this town."

As the morning wore on, many questions remained about the night's firefight.
Villagers, mainly Arab farmers, were out inspecting the damage. No one was
hurt, they said, but they lost property. By their count, American artillery
killed five cows, six or seven sheep and a donkey, tore holes in six houses
and destroyed two tractors. In all, about 60 families live in Seeha.

The farmers admitted that they had fired on the soldiers but said they had
not known they were shooting at Americans because of the darkness. Tense
after the weekend violence in Kirkuk, they said they mistook the troops for
invading Kurds. About 15 people fired for 30 minutes, said Akhmed Saleh, one
of the farmers who took part in the gunfight.

"It was the Americans' mistake," said Mr. Saleh, standing near a gaping hole
in his neighbor's house caused by American tank fire. "We didn't know they
were Americans." The farmers said they were armed with only simple rifles
and had stopped firing and fled as soon as they realized whom they were
fighting. They said they had no other guns.

The Americans, however, were skeptical. By morning, they had confiscated 15
or 16 automatic weapons, including AK-47 guns and two Belgian-made guns,
Captain Fischer said. "The weapons we found were not typical of farmers,"
the captain said. "One of the guns they had I couldn't afford. The movement
tactics we saw were not from farmers."

Kirkuk today was quiet. Local representatives from the Arab and Kurdish
communities were talking to people in neighborhoods, urging calm. A joint
meeting in a mosque on Sunday night seemed to reach a truce, though shooting
continued in the Qadesiyah neighborhood. A Turkmen representative was shot
in the hand while he was leaving a meeting on Sunday.

Everyone in the north has a gun. After the fall of Kirkuk, American forces
found more than a division's worth of weapons and ammunition in strategic
points around the city.

"There were houses filled floor to ceiling and wall to wall with tank ammo
and artillery rounds," Captain Fischer said. "They were quickly emptied

It was unclear when more clashes would occur, but Captain Fischer said he
was sure that at some point they would.

"It will flare up again," he said. Easing the problem "will require patience
on everyone's part, including ours. You have to define what the problem
actually is and talk through it."

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]