ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi security forces were deployed to protect the office of a Kurdish party in the disputed city of Kirkuk on Friday afternoon after dozens of demonstrators took to the streets to protest the recent nomination of a Kurd to be the next provincial governor.
Photos posted on social media showed protesters carrying banners that described Kurds as “separatists” and compared them to Islamic State militants.
In video footage of a gathering of demonstrators near the governor's office, one woman can be heard saying, “We are Baathists. We are Saddamis.” Both statements are references to the former Iraqi regime, led by dictator Saddam Hussein, who launched a campaign of genocide, repression, and forced displacement against the Kurds during his rule.
Local sources and witnesses on Friday told the Shafaaq news agency that a team of PUK-affiliated Asayish security forces and an Iraqi special forces unit subordinate to Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi were on “high alert” and had surrounded the PUK headquarters in Kirkuk as a precaution.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) announced on Thursday, following a months-long dispute, that Kurdish politician Tayib Jabar Amin was their sole candidate to be the new governor of ethnically diverse Kirkuk Province.
Though rivals in the Kurdistan Region, in Kirkuk the two parties band together to form the Brotherhood Alliance, which has an absolute majority on Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC)—the local legislative body. The council has the authority to choose who takes the top post.
In late 2017, Iraqi troops and Shia militias took over Kirkuk and forced the retreat of Kurdish Peshmerga forces in response to the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum which saw an overwhelming majority vote for statehood. Since then, the governor's post has been held by Baghdad-appointed bureaucrat Rakan Saeed who replaced then-governor Najmaldin Karim after he fled to take refuge in Erbil.
Reaching an agreement on a joint candidate has been one of the critical issues between the two parties regarding Kirkuk given their differences on how to normalize the situation in oil-rich Kirkuk. The move, however, was not welcomed by non-Kurdish parties in the province, including Arab factions and a Turkmen party that claimed the position belongs to them until a local election is held.
“We respect the viewpoint of the two Kurdish parties and the candidate… but we have a different opinion,” Riyaz Sary, the leader of the Turkmen Illi party, told Kurdistan 24. “Kirkuk is historically a Turkmen city,” he said.
“Therefore, we ask that the post be handed over to Turkmen until the [next] provincial council elections,” added Sary. “After the election, we hope that the post is alternated by turn among the different ethnicities.”
Due to seemingly intractable disputes between various parties and also between Baghdad and Erbil, there has not been a provincial election in Kirkuk since 2005.
In mid-June, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced that local elections, including Kirkuk, would be held across the country on April 20, 2020, the second time the date has been changed since the beginning of 2019.
Neither the PUK nor the KDP has yet publicly commented on Friday's demonstration.
Editing by John J. Catherine