Monday, 25 October 2010

Iraq: Census causes tension

Iraq's census, now due to take place on 5th December after being rescheduled three times, continues to cause friction between Kurds and Arabs, particularly in the disputed territories. The Kurds have always been ardent supporters of the census, believing it will confirm a Kurdish majority in Kirkuk that could be used as the basis for a referendum on the area's status as set out in Article 140 of the constitution.

However, in a complete about-turn, they are now threatening to boycott the whole process. The reason for this change of heart is that the federal ministry of planning went ahead this month with a decision to remove a question about ethnicity from the poll. The Kurds believe that this move is another attempt by the Arabs to marginalise them and to sweep Article 140 even further under the carpet. They appealed to the central authorities to force the ministry to alter its decision and to reinstate the ethnicity question.

Arabs meanwhile have welcomed the ministry's move. Ninevah governor Afil al-Najayfi, for example, backed the decision claiming that the census is being held for development and economic purposes and as such there is no need for ethnicity even to be mentioned. For the moment it seems that the government is unsure about how to deal with the issue, knowing that the census has the capability to ignite tensions one way or another. The planning minister has backtracked a little, acknowledging that he should not have taken a unilateral decision to remove the ethnicity question but rather that it should have been agreed by the cabinet.

The federal court has tried to decouple the whole census affair from the status of Kirkuk, stating this month that the survey has nothing at all do with Article 140. Meanwhile some on the ground are taking matters into their own hands. There have been stories coming out of Kirkuk of Arabs being attacked by Kurds in what they claim have been efforts to force them out of the area. According to Arab sources, Kurdish armed groups have broken into a number of Arab houses, taken identity documents and left again. Similar stories are emerging about Arabs attacking Kurds to try to intimidate them into leaving the area.

It is clear therefore that tension is rising. Given these strains, it seems highly unlikely that the census will go ahead in December and will most likely be postponed yet again, something that will only serve to frustrate the Kurds and to make them feel even more marginalised.

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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