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kirkuk rejects diyala citizens

 6 June 2008:

A passenger car leaving Baghdad stops at a checkpoint in Daqouq south of Kirkuk. The door is opened by a militant carrying a rifle asking passengers if they are from Diyala. Passengers stare fearfully at each other and there is silence. The militant repeats the question with a threatening tone: “Before I ask you to show me your identity cards I’ll ask once more, who is from Diyala?” Silence hangs heavy for a few seconds, before a Turkman finally responds: “None of us is from Diyala.” The militant closes the car door and the passengers are allowed to continue their trip.

Such is the fate today of those entering Kirkuk. With violence continuing in Diyala province and widespread displacement growing as Iraqis flee to safer territory, neighboring cities are increasingly wary of opening their door to potential trouble-makers. And those who do make it into Kirkuk say they face continued persecution.

One recent arrival to the city said that “any problem with people from Diyala, no matter how insignificant, will be followed by questions and long investigations.” People from Diyala are perceived as terrorists, he said. Arriving from an insurgency hot spot their guilt is as good as assumed.

Local authorities say they are not targeting the people of Diyala per se but they are treated this way because they come from an insecure area full of terrorists and militias. According to Kirkuk police chief Major General Jamal Tahir, “Kirkuk is an insurgency hot spot and we need to know every visitor.” In the latest campaign, security forces arrested 16 suspects and three of them were wanted by the government for insurgency-related activities said General Thahir. The others did not have permission to live in Kirkuk and were released two days later.

Ali Mahdi, a Turkman and one of three members of the Kirkuk council’s security committee denied the existence of an official policy to prevent citizens from Diyala entering Kirkuk. He added that “displaced families are being handled by the immigration directorate in Kirkuk according to regulations in force all over Iraq.”

Two years ago, when Baghdad was boiling with violence and sectarian killings, Kirkuk received Baghdadi Sunni Arabs and Kurds. These Arabs faced a similar campaign: they were suspects and their houses were raided to check immigration papers. Those with legitimate papers from the Immigration Department were abducted and interrogated but released after a while, while those who did not hold the necessary documents remained in custody until their identities and intentions could be verified.

Yet as this policy of intense verification continues, there is a worry that personal tensions are growing.

Some people from Diyala say that security forces reject them simply out of personal animosity, or even ignorance. There is a joke circuiting of a checkpoint officer looking at a judge’s ID and on seeing a scale with two pans, symbolizing the scale of justice, asks the judge if he works at Ulwat market, selling fruit and vegetables. This is how people from Diyala say they are treated.

In what seems to be a personal counter-reaction, at least one security officer at the opposite checkpoint in Khalis, which people from Kirkuk pass on their way to Baghdad, asked passengers to show their identity cards and did not allow a Kurd from Kirkuk to pass. The security officer told him to “go back to where you came from. You will not enter Baghdad or Diyala. You prevent our people from entering Kirkuk, and we must prevent you from entering Baghdad and Diyala.” If it was not for the intervention of other passengers and security officers the passenger would not have made it to Baghdad.

Not all of those fleeing Diyala into Kirkuk are treated with hostility. Among the new inhabitants of the city are Shiites Kurds, known as Fayli Kurds, who emigrated from Mandali and Qazaniyah in Diyala. This group is welcomed and enjoys greater security because of its ethnic origins linking them to the many Kurds of Kirkuk.

And in truth, many from Diyala continue, despite the restrictions, to settle in Kirkuk. They occupy houses previously rented by Baghdadis and fill the streets with their vehicles carrying Diyala license plates. One Kirkuk citizen said: “You see them wherever you go.