ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Turkish Ambassador to Iraq Fatih Yildz announced that his country would help rebuild a recently burned Ottoman-era market in the disputed province of Kirkuk.
His statement came during his visit to Kirkuk city on Friday, where he was received by the head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, Arshad Salihi, and other local officials.
Yildiz visited the "Qaisary" bazaar and inspected the effects of the blaze that broke out late Monday night and tore through over 400 shops, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.
“Turkey through the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) began its work to restore the market,” he told the reporters gathered there.
TIKA is a government department of the Prime Ministry of Turkey. It is responsible for the nation's official development assistance to other nations, with a particular focus on Turkic countries and communities.
Yildiz said Ankara would do everything in its power to bring the market back to its former glory, consistent with its historic style.
Last week’s fire raised suspicions among some that it had been set deliberately. The Iraqi Turkmen Front's leader in Baghdad's parliament, Hassan Touran, recently charged that it was done to target the "Turkmen presence" in the market.
Security forces say they have opened an investigation into the fire's causes.
Oil-rich Kirkuk is one of the territories disputed between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal government of Iraq. It is an ethnically diverse province comprised of Turkmens, Arabs, Christians, and a Kurdish majority.
Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the formation of the modern Turkish state in the early 1920s, Turkey has often implied that both Kirkuk and Mosul are its rightful Ottoman-era territories.
In recent decades, Ankara is seen as supporting the Turkmen population in Iraq, namely the leading Iraqi Turkmen Front party, based in Kirkuk where it secured three seats in Iraq’s May parliamentary elections.
The Kurds have historically claimed Kirkuk as part of the Kurdistan Region, which has gone through several systematic Arabization campaigns in past years by the Iraqi government to increase Baghdad's local influence and claim to it.
Following the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) in 2014, Kurdish Peshmerga forces entered Kirkuk and protected it from jihadist attacks after the Iraqi army fled and failed to defend the population.
Kirkuk has been under the control of Iraqi forces since they launched military operations following the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum in September 2017, driving back out the Peshmerga forces with whom they had been fighting IS for the previous few years.
Since then, Kirkuk has suffered considerably from instability and insecurity as a result of kidnappings, assassinations, and various insurgent attacks taking place on a near-daily basis.
Editing by John J. Catherine