Customs levied in Kirkuk anger residents as prices go up, divide country

The installation of customs points on the Erbil – Kirkuk and Sulaimani – Kirkuk roads have raised concerns among the people of the oil-rich province as prices for imported items have considerably gone up.
author_image Sangar Ali

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The installation of customs points on the Erbil – Kirkuk and Sulaimani – Kirkuk roads have raised concerns among the people of the oil-rich province as prices for imported items have considerably gone up.

Iraqi authorities in the province of Kirkuk on Sep. 22 installed two customs points on the Erbil – Kirkuk and Sulaimani – Kirkuk roads to tax all items entering the province from the Kurdish semi-autonomous region.

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 several 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).

The decision to impose customs between the territories aimed to redraw official borders between the Kurdistan Region and the federal government of Iraq.

In response to the customs points, Kurdish parties called the decision illegal and unconstitutional. They also demanded the Iraqi Parliament speak up against it.

Now, any items brought to Kirkuk from the Kurdistan Region are taxed twice, once when they initially enter the country and once more entering the province, greatly affecting prices in the market. Books being brought into the province are also being taxed.

“Even during Saddam’s rule, there were no taxes on books,” Bakir Latif, the owner of a bookstore in Kirkuk, told Kurdistan 24 on Friday. “[With all his brutality], Saddam never installed customs points between the cities.”

“This is very weird. Those who are in power in Kirkuk now seems like they want to take advantage of anything to maximize their personal gains.”

Bakir Latif, the owner of a bookstore in Kirkuk, Nov. 3, 2018. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Bakir Latif, the owner of a bookstore in Kirkuk, Nov. 3, 2018. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

"We already had few readers, and now with an imposed tax, very few people will be able to buy books. Those customs points are a catastrophe,” Latif argued.

At first, concerns over the customs points were raised only by Kurds in Kirkuk, but now, other ethnic and religious groups have started to complain as the financial impact is affecting everyone.

“I am Turkmen, and you can call other ethnic and religious groups too to talk to them. Nobody is happy with these measures,” a shopkeeper in Kirkuk selling construction and building materials told Kurdistan 24 on Friday.

A Turkmen shopkeeper in Kirkuk, Nov. 3, 2018. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
A Turkmen shopkeeper in Kirkuk, Nov. 3, 2018. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

“I am 59-years-old and have no income. I work as a shopkeeper here. Some days, I only get IQD 5,000 (USD 4) from my sales. How am I supposed to live with that? How can I afford the monthly rent for this shop? Business was already weak, and those customs points have made it even worse.”

Mohammed Osman, a former Kirkuk-born lawmaker in the Iraqi Parliament, affirmed Kurdish members of the Iraqi Parliament have begun collecting signatures to remove the customs imposed on the province.

“The installation of these customs points means we are two different countries. Customs levied on the Erbil – Kirkuk and Sulaimani – Kirkuk roads are unconstitutional,” Osman said.

“We hope that after the formation of the new Iraqi government, Kurds pressure Baghdad to remove these customs points. People are really being affected by them.”

Editing by Nadia Riva

(Additional reporting by Hemin Dalo)