First Published: 2013-01-02

 

Iraq’s Tuz Khurmatu caught in middle of territory dispute

 

Tuz Khurmatu residents stress simmering tensions between Baghdad, Kurdistan cause fear, are also bad for business.

 

Middle East Online

By W.G. Dunlop - TUZ KHURMATU, Iraq

Butcher Sherzad Saleh stands outside his shop in Tuz Khurmatu holding a dead chicken. He has more pressing concerns than a high-level dispute over territory.

"The army comes here, this is my job; the peshmerga come here, this is my job," says Saleh.

He means forces from the federal government and from the autonomous Kurdistan region deployed in disputed areas of north Iraq, including near Tuz Khurmatu, during recent periods of high tension between the two sides.

"I am not with the army or the peshmerga," he says. "We want services, electricity, projects."

But top federal and Kurdish politicians have other priorities.

Whatever people like Saleh may wish for, Tuz Khurmatu, a town of low-rise buildings, palm trees and around 110,000 residents, is in a swathe of territory Kurdistan wants to incorporate into its autonomous region over Baghdad's strong objections.

Diplomats and officials believe this dispute over territory is the greatest threat to Iraq's long-term stability.

The establishment in September of the federal Tigris Operations Command, which covers disputed northern territory, drew an angry response from Kurdish leaders and increased tensions with the federal government.

Then on November 16, a firefight broke out during an attempt by Iraqi forces to arrest a Kurdish man in the town.

One person was killed and others were wounded, further worsening relations between Baghdad and Kurdistan as both sides deployed reinforcements.

The crisis, which Iraq's parliament speaker warned could lead to civil war, has since eased, but the dispute over territory remains unresolved.

For the people of Tuz Khurmatu, simmering tensions between Baghdad and Kurdistan cause fear and are also bad for business.

The "army came, and the peshmerga came; the people are afraid" and business suffered, Saleh says.

"We do not want a war to happen. There is killing in war, it would affect our circumstances... our work would stop," says grocer Hisham Fateh Hamid.

-- Mixed identities --

Tuz Khurmatu is a town of mixed identities, a fact emphasised by its flags -- massive Kurdish flags are emblazoned on hills to its east, Iraqi federal flags fly over official buildings and police checkpoints, and countless banners marking the death of a revered Shiite imam flutter from houses.

Many residents are Turkmen Shiites, hence the banners venerating Imam Ali, but Tuz Khurmatu also has Kurdish and Arab populations.

Despite their mixed ethnicities, the people say the dispute between the Kurdish region and the Arab-dominated government in Baghdad has not caused problems between residents.

"There's no difference between Turkmen or Arabs or Kurds," says Saleh, a Kurd.

Shakir Ahmed, an Arab owner of a grocery shop, agrees, saying that "no tension has occurred between citizens."

But Tuz Khurmatu is caught in the middle anyway: Kurdish peshmerga forces are deployed on the hills east of the town, and Iraqi soldiers man checkpoints and reinforced positions to the south.

Then there is a multiplicity of security forces inside Tuz Khurmatu -- local police, Iraqi federal police, Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish forces.

Territorial tensions are not the only issue in Tuz Khurmatu. There are also seemingly sectarian attacks, part of a broader problem across Iraq, in which Shiites are frequently targeted in bombings by Sunni militants.

On December 17, two car bombs exploded in a Turkmen area of the town, killing five people and wounding 26.

Hamdi Ibrahim Samin's wife was wounded in the head by one of the blasts which also smashed his house.

An entire wall that used to hold a door has also been blown away, and a few meagre belongings including a fan and two worn benches are piled amid the rubble.

"Nothing remains," Samin says, as water from a broken pipe flows down a narrow street past other wrecked buildings near his home.

What Tuz Khurmatu ultimately needs, according to Shalal Baban, the administrative official responsible for the district, is development, not more military men and materiel.

"We currently need projects, construction," he says, noting the lack of even basic services such as clean drinking water.

"We don't need tanks, troop transports, armoured vehicles or planes," Baban says. "We need projects."

 

Vote or boycott: Grim record of self-serving politicians puts off voters in Tunisia

For Sudan President: Promises are something and re-election is something else

Egypt universities tighten security to avoid new Islamist violence

Rise of Shiite militias challenges government authority in Iraq

How to overcome Qatar heat? FIFA boss prefers winter World Cup in 2022

Protests over IS turn Istanbul University into war zone

Turkey eyes stricter punishment against lawbreakers at protests

Iran returns Abadi to ‘house of obedience’

From traditional military to counterinsurgency force: Syria army grows more capable

South Sudan rivals accept 'responsibility' for civil war

British drones in Iraq also used for Syria surveillance

Turkey launches new wave of wire-tapping arrests

Syria Kurds show impressive resistance to ‘Islamic State’ in Kobane

Iran forces inside Iraq as Abadi rules out foreign ground intervention!

South Sudan rivals meet in new bid to end civil war

From Morocco into Spain: Crowd of African migrants charges to border fence

Deadly suicide attack targets Shiite mosque in central Baghdad

Turkey gives Iraq Peshmerga forces passage to Kobane

Israel to supply Egypt with natural gas despite sabotage

Kerry seeks help of Southeast Asia in anti-Islamic State push

Qaeda inflicts heavy losses on Huthi rebels in central Yemen

US carries out first weapon airdrops to Kurd fighters near Kobane

Benghazi violence kills 75 people in five days

Morocco accuses Algeria of firing on civilians across border

Australia finalises deal for deployment of Special Forces to Iraq

Tunisia calls on Libya authorities to locate missing journalists

Turkey rejects calls to arm ‘terrorist’ Kurdish party in Syria

Western powers threaten sanctions against hostile actors in Libya

New deadly terrorist attack targets Egypt army in Sinai

‘Islamic State’ suffers heavy losses in Syria battleground of Kobane

After full formation of Iraq government, time comes to visit Iran

UN appeals for four-day truce in Western Libya

Gaza tunnel collapses before demolition: At least 3 Egypt soldiers dead

Erdogan begins one-day visit to Afghanistan

After weeks of delay, Iraq gets new security ministers

Diplomats scold Turkey over ambiguous relation with Islamic State

Lebanon pleads for Iran military aid to fight Islamic State

Kurds repulse new jihadist attempt to cut off Syria town

Huthi rebels meet fierce resistance in Yemen Sunni areas

Former Iraqi pilots train IS to fly Syria fighter jets

Two Millstones Drowning America into Premature Oblivion

Iraqi forces launch anti-IS operation north of Tikrit

Ben Ali cohorts planning comeback in Tunisia polls

Battle for Libya's Benghazi heats up

Kurdish fighters still holding out in Syria's Kobane