Kurdish officials are beginning the process of sending Arab residents back to their cities of origin ahead of a referendum on whether to absorb Kirkuk into the Kurdistan Regional Government area.
Some Arabs, who were originally placed in Kirkuk by Saddam Hussein to counter the political influence of ethnic Kurds, fear they will be forced to leave their comparatively peaceful region. Kurdish officials fear the Arabs will vote to keep Kirkuk inside Iraq. Some even report being detained by police until they agreed to leave; the Kurdish government is offering families $16,000 if they do so voluntarily.
Accounts of how many Arabs the government has relocated differ. One Kurdish official tells the Los Angeles Times that at least 58,000 Arabs have already left the region. The Christian Science Monitor reports that 9,450 Arab families are preparing to leave voluntarily, while a different Kurdish official say the number is closer to 1,000 families.
“Security may trump ethnicity in Kirkuk”
Los Angeles Times, September 28, 2007
“Iraqi Arab families ready to leave Kirkuk-minister”
Reuters, September 27, 2007