|Ethnic re-cleansing begins
KIRKUK - An open truck carrying
a family and their possessions pulls up at a checkpoint
set up by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) at
Dakuk, just south of the oil city Kirkuk. Shaker Mahmoud
al-Zendi and his family are back after a 20-year exile.
"I had come back here in 1983 from fighting for
Iraq against Iran at the Faw peninsula," says al-Zendi,
who takes his name after his village. "It had been a
terrible battle, but when I got home it was worse. My
whole village had been wiped off the face of the earth."
The action against al-Zendi village was a part
of the "Arabization" of the north by Saddam Hussein and
his Ba'ath regime. Baghdad decided to change the ethnic
balance in oil rich Kirkuk and Mosul; the local Kurds
had long been seen as troublesome.
thousands of Kurdish families started to move back to
their old lands from around the country. Families from
the autonomous Kurdish area further north had begun to
return the week before. The Ba'ath party forced most
Kurdish families into internal exile to remote and poor
areas. Some 200 families from al-Zendi were driven to
Ramadi located in the dry and dusty desert towards
Kurds are happy to return to their green
and fertile fields in the north. But strangers now
occupy their land, and some seem ready to fight for it.
Al-Zendi instructs members of his tribe to set up tents
at the site where his village used to stand. His voice
shaking with rage, he points to a distant village. "That
is still my land and I asked them to leave," he says.
"The thieves just said no."
PUK officials are
now supporting the claims of the returning Kurds. "The
occupiers will have to go back to their home districts,"
says Nur Eddin Daoudi, a political officer who says that
his task is to escort Kurds to their original homes. The
PUK is clearly aiming to reverse the Arabization
introduced by the Ba'ath Party. About 750,000 "Arabs and
Bedu" in the Kirkuk district will have to leave because
they were "instruments of the Ba'ath Party", Daoudi
But the PUK will respect their human
rights, he says. "We suffered and we will not do the
same to others." The Arabs, he says, will be given one
month to find homes and jobs elsewhere. "But we have
nowhere to go," says Sheik Awad Bardi Owgla from
al-Wahdeh village, speaking in Arabic. This is the
village al-Zendi had pointed to.
were a nomadic people who roamed the land for centuries
"from the Syrian border region to the north of Saudi
Arabia" says Owgla. In 1973, the government forced them
to give up their nomadic existence. Before 1974 the
tribe had no nationality, he says. The government
changed that, and gave them land near Dakuk. "Those
Kurds are liars," says Owgla. "They had been given land
by the government just a few years before us. Most of
our land was also state land, and we bought the rest
That tallies with a PUK
guideline that everybody who registered in the area
before 1971 can stay. Families who registered later will
have to leave, Kurdish leaders say. Owgla concedes that
his village may have taken over some Kurdish land after
their expulsion in 1983. But he indicated that the issue
can be negotiated. Instead, he says, the Kurds are
shooting at them.
The al- Zendis in the meantime
are inspecting a pile of rubble that was once the family
home. "This is where I will also build my new home,"
says al-Zendi, holding a handful of dust. For now, men
are living in tents to mark their presence. The women
and children are staying in a house near Dakuk that
al-Zendi owned 20 years ago. "It had been taken over by
a member of the Ba'ath Party," he says. "He left some 20
days ago and I immediately sent some men to take it
back." Now the women are cleaning the house out to get
rid of all signs of the last occupant.