Turkey PM expects Iraq to reverse 'demographic change' in Kirkuk as Kurdish families flee
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) - Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Wednesday called on the Baghdad government to reverse what he called "Kurdistan Region-imposed demographic change" in the disputed areas, including the city of Kirkuk the Iranian-backed Iraqi army and Shia militias captured from Kurdish forces this week.
"We expect from the central government to show the necessary sensitivity in reversing the demographic changes implemented by the Regional Administration of Northern Iraq in the areas it captured from the Peshmerga, including Kirkuk," Yildirim said.
The Turkish PM was accusing the Kurds of ethnic cleansing other minorities, in his remarks carried by the state-funded Anadolu Agency.
Yildirim's suggestion came as thousands of Kurdish families continued to flee toward Erbil and Sulaimaniya from Kirkuk where they historically constitute the majority despite decades-long policies of Arabisation by the former Baathist regime of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Since the swift fall of Kurdish Peshmerga's defense lines in Kirkuk due to disunity and backdoor agreements, Iranian-backed Hashd Sha'abi militias have engaged in looting and burning of Kurdish houses and shops in the ethnically-diverse town of Tuzkhurmatu and surrounding villages.
Picture posted by social media users on Twitter and Facebook showed Hashd Al-Sha’abi and civilians loyal to the Baghdad government looting abandoned Kurdish houses in Kirkuk.
"We are escaping from the Hashd. People are afraid; there is oppression. Otherwise, we would not leave," a man driving his family from Kirkuk to Erbil told Kurdistan 24.
"Yesterday they killed nine people," his wife interjected, holding a toddler in her arm.
Irfan Kerkukli, the Kirkuk head of the Turkmen People's Party told Kurdistan 24 that militias burnt down his house and office on the orders of Ershad Salihi, a lawmaker from the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), for his yes vote in Kurdistan Region's last month referendum on independence.
Kerkukli said up to militias set 100 Kurdish houses ablaze in Tuzkhurmatu.
Kurdistan 24's live TV coverage from a mid-point on the Kirkuk-Erbil highway showed a congested road with hundreds of civilian vehicles fleeing the sectarian violence.
"We call on the UN to send observers, peacekeepers to Kirkuk [and other] areas - locals report rape, murder, and lootings," said the Kurdish opposition Goran movement in a tweet.
Editing by Ava Homa
(Hemin Dilo contributed to this report from Pirda on the Kirkuk-Erbil highway.)