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."

 

Deadly Sinai attacks force Sisi to cut short overseas trip

New Saudi king announces sweeping cabinet shake-up

Hezbollah warns it does not fear new war with Israel

Jordan still kept in the dark over pilot fate

British mosques open doors to reach out to citizens

AU: Ignoring South Sudan findings will help the guilty

Saudi blogger’s flogging postponed for third week

Iran seeks good relations with Saudi Arabia

Syria’s Qaeda fights Western-backed rebels

Abbas to visit Stockholm after Palestine recognised

UN chief to African leaders: do not 'cling to power'

Israel to go ahead with 430 new West Bank settler homes

Libya rivals to join peace talks if held on home soil

Israel reduces energy supplies to Palestinians

Syria opposition embassy in Qatar renews passports

Hezbollah sends message to Israel ‘conflict is over’

Women protest against Egypt police after fatal shooting

Libyan airline suspends flights

Iraq government vows to investigate Diyala massacre

MSF withdraws help from two Sudan states

Jordan wants to see proof pilot alive before exchange

US says thousands of Somali children facing starvation

Kuwait online activists arrested 'over Saudi criticism'

Iran, Europe officials to meet Thursday in Istanbul

IS issues new deadline to kill Jordanian pilot if demand not met

Netanyahu warns Hezbollah will pay 'full price'

African Union sees no military solution to Libya crisis

Yemen powerful militia prevents fresh protest in Sanaa

Iran appoints new UN ambassador after US visa refusal

Pentagon confirms US involvement in talks with Yemen Huthis

Hezbollah missiles threaten to spark new war in volatile region

In new website, France warns would-be jihadists: You will die alone

Israel retaliates against Hezbollah attack

Can Iraqis trust their government to rebuild their country?

Sheikh Ali Salman rejects charges as trial opens in Bahrain

Protesters try to storm UN headquarters in Gaza

UN peacekeeper killed in southern Lebanon amid border clash

Kobane in ruins after symbolic blow to jihadists

Jordan bows to IS demand

Hezbollah claims attack on Israeli military convoy

Somali PM proposes new cabinet list

Syria opposition groups, Assad representatives meet in Moscow

Yemen’s Huthis free top presidential aide

French FM urges international cooperation against extremism

Clock ticking towards 24-hour IS deadline to kill hostages