HASAN KANBOLAT

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HASAN KANBOLAT
May 16, 2011, Monday

Why violence against Turkmens in Iraq is increasing

According to a decision made in the first week of May in the Iraqi Turkmen parliament, the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) is to be re-structured. The new head ITC member of parliament and ITC Kirkuk City president is Erşat Salihi.

One week after the new political restructuring of the ITC, on the morning of May 12, Erşat Salihi's Kirkuk home was attacked. Despite the fact that his house was guarded, the attacker succeeded in tossing explosives into his house and planting mines around the outside of the home. And thus, the first large-scale attack on a Turkmen leader in Iraq took place. Luckily, no one was hurt during these events, even though Salihi and his family were at home during the attack. But the fact that the convoy of Kirkuk Police Chief Cemal Tahir was attacked as Tahir and his team returned from inspecting the evidence at Salihi's home shows that whoever carried out these attacks was very organized and resolute in their actions.

These days, low-intensity violence is simply a part of daily life throughout Iraq. And this violence, which kills anywhere between 10-100 people a day, does not actually affect daily life anymore. In fact, the Iraqi people have begun to view this sort of non-mass violence as normal. At the same time, one must not compare the attack against Salihi to other violence occurring in Iraq these days. In response to the significance of this particular attack, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs even issued a special declaration (on May 12) condemning it.

As for Erşat Salihi, he said that while he had been expecting an attack, he was not able to blame any particular faction for it. If this event was carried out with the intent of relaying a political message, who was behind it and what were the contents of the message? The Turkmens, despite being one of the three founding groups of Iraq, were not really present in Iraqi politics until the March 7, 2010 general elections, when they were suddenly for the first time represented by three ministers, as well as the Kirkuk provincial presidency. So have some factions been made uncomfortable by the presence of Turkmens on the Iraqi political stage? Does it bother some that the Turkmens are learning the art of politics? Was the message actually intended for Turkey via the Turkmens? Or is it Turkey's, as well as the Iraqi Turkmen's, changing Kurdish policies that were at play in this attack? We need to look at the recent past to find some answers here.

The ITC was formed in 1995 in Erbil. At the time, the Turkmen slogan was “Erbil is Turkish and will remain Turkish!” But the fact that the PKK was being sheltered in Northern Iraq and slipping over the border into Turkey and that the Iraqi Kurds were allowing the PKK to be active, wound up causing rifts between the Iraqi Kurds and both Turkey and the Iraqi Turkmens. After the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the ITC headquarters moved to Kirkuk from Erbil. Influential in this move were the formation of the Kurdistan Regional Authority and the ITC's acceptance of the name “Kurdistan,” as well as the fact that Kirkuk was shown as lying within the borders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) maps of regional leadership. When the ITC headquarters moved to Kirkuk, the new slogan for Iraqi Turkmen became “Kirkuk is Turkish, and will remain Turkish!”

Over recent years, as Turkey's Kurdish policies have softened and their relations with Iraqi Kurds have improved, relations between the Iraqi Turkmen and the Iraqi Kurds also began to soften and improve. In fact, it was precisely this improved atmosphere that helped the Iraqi Turkmens successfully win over the Kirkuk provincial presidency. Events such as Turkey's opening a consulate in Erbil, visits to the region by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Industry Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Interior Affairs Minister Beşir Atalay, and then a visit to Erbil by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on March 29 were all crucial in helping overcome the lack of trust that had existed between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds, as well as between Iraqi Turkmens and Iraqi Kurds.

Other fundamental steps that helped the atmosphere were the KDP inviting the ITC to its congress, the ITC approaching Iraqi Kurds more positively, the KYB being one of the first political parties to congratulate Salihi on his new role and the ITC preparing to re-open its bureau in Erbil, which has been closed since 2003. But in fact, these new balances also cleared the path to new polarizations in the region. Forces in these regions were becoming uncomfortable over the changing balances and over the compromising policies being adopted by both Turkey and the Iraqi Turkmens. To wit, three Turkish workers who were kidnapped on Feb. 15 in Kirkuk were held for 70 days in the largely Arab village of Dogmat near the Kirkuk-Reshad area. For the last seven days of their captivity, they were buried in a ditch and covered with soil, only able to breathe plastic pipes inserted in the ground. It is a clear reality that no proposals for solutions that ignore the Arabs in the region will bring any peace to Kirkuk or other disputed regions. In the same way, Turkmens and Kurds cannot be discounted by any possible solutions either. For this reason, dialogue between the various sides needs to occur with careful observation and attention to the delicate balances in the area. Only this will help bring down the tension.