ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Kirkuk is witnessing a new campaign of forced changes in demographics, this time of a sectarian nature, according to a Kurdish official.
Head of the Kirkuk Provincial Council Rebwar Talabani on Saturday told Kurdistan 24 that Kirkuk was now suffering from a campaign led by Iranian-backed Shia militias to transform the diverse province into a Shia stronghold.
“Kirkuk is not experiencing Arabization but instead a ‘Shia-ization’ after it was taken over by Shia militias,” Talabani said.
“This almost makes us feel sorry for the Baath party: for 35 years, they sought to Arabize Kirkuk and failed to do so,” he stated. “But the Baath and Saddam regime did not attempt a sectarian change.”
Kirkuk is an oil-rich, multi-ethnic and diverse province home to a mix of Turkmen, Arabs, and Christians along with a Kurdish majority. Under Saddam and the former regime, Kirkuk was subjected to a number of Arabization campaigns where Kurdish families were forcibly displaced from the now disputed territory.
Now, Sunnis are the target of reported intimidation at the hands of the Hashd al-Shaabi - Kurds who are overwhelmingly Sunni, as well as the Sunni Arab population of the city. The ostentatious sectarianism, amid acts of violence, has a strategic objective: to transform the city’s population and force Sunnis to flee.
Talabani, who is in Erbil, said the neighborhoods have been divvied up between Shia factions within the Hashd al-Shaabi.
He went on to say that these Shia security authorities spread around Kirkuk are openly recruiting new members and opening the door for volunteers, just as they have previously done in Baghdad, Fallujah, Diyala, and Anbar.
“Mosul and Kirkuk are the latest targets of the Shia conversion and recruitment campaign,” he added.
On Oct. 16, the Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militia and Iraqi Forces launched an assault on Kirkuk and other disputed areas. As of Nov. 2, over 183,000 civilians have been displaced since the attack, most of them Kurds, with 79,000 people having fled the city of Kirkuk according to the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq.
Shia militias are also engaged in “kidnappings and robberies,” lootings and arson, creating panic and fear among the population.