ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A group of activists on Tuesday asked shopkeepers in the disputed province of Kirkuk to launch a one-hour strike to mark the 1st anniversary of the Oct. 16 events and protest the attack and takeover of the province by Iraqi forces and Shia militias.
The Social Coalition of Kirkuk People, a civic group in the oil-rich province, held a press conference strongly criticizing the current situation and “imposed military rule” in Kirkuk.
The group raised four demands: the demilitarization and withdrawal of the Iraqi military from the city; the return of authority to the local civil administration; the removal of checkpoints on the Sulaimani – Kirkuk and Erbil – Kirkuk main roads; and an end to the policies of the current acting Governor of Kirkuk, Rakan al-Saeed, which they have labeled as policies that spread “hate and tension” among the different ethnic and religious groups of Kirkuk.
Kirkuk is an oil-rich province located in the south of the Kurdistan Region and north of Iraq. It is a multi-ethnic region with a diverse religious background, made up of Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs, and Christians. Kurds account for the majority of the population.
Kirkuk is also a disputed territory between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal government of Iraq. The province has undergone severe systematic campaigns of demographic change to ‘Arabize’ the region and obstruct the Kurdistan Region’s claim on it.
Last October, in response to the Kurdistan Region’s historic independence referendum, Iraqi forces and the Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias attacked Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk and other disputed areas, ousting the Kurdish forces that had previously fought alongside them in the war against the Islamic State (IS).
Kurds have often criticized Saeed for pursuing policies that support Arabization campaigns to change the current demographic makeup of Kirkuk, something Saeed denies.
The group also argued that since Oct. 16, 2017, the province has been under military rule, with civilians often the victim of indiscriminate gunfire by Iraqi forces in Kirkuk.
The recently established customs points on the Erbil and Sulaimani roads taxing products entering the province from the Kurdistan Region have considerably affected the prices of commodities and people’s lives, the group stressed.
On Monday, Rebwar Talabani, the head of Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC) called for the restoration of the province to its pre-Oct. 16 status.
Talabani also called for the suspension and cancellation of all measures and decisions that Kirkuk’s current administration has made and which “the oppressive institutions implemented.” He also demanded compensation for the people who suffered from the events of Oct. 16 and in the aftermath.
Editing by Nadia Riva