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 Kirkuk: Iraqi Muslims, Christians pray for calm in north

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Kirkuk: Iraqi Muslims, Christians pray for calm in north  2.6.2011  







June 2, 2011

KIRKUK, Iraq's border with Kurdistan region, — Iraqi Muslim leaders have joined their Christian counterparts for prayers at a church in Kirkuk, in a public bid to ease tensions in the disputed northern city. In disputed Kirkuk city: Iraqi Muslims, Christians pray for calm in north.

Around 1,500 people -- including Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen -- gathered at the Chaldean Cathedral late on Tuesday, singing Christian hymns before reciting prayers and verses from the Bible and the Koran.

"Christians and Muslims have gathered together here in Kirkuk, which has suffered from deadly violence that has scared us all in recent weeks," said Louis Sakho, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, scene of deadly unrest last month.

"It is appropriate for Christians and Muslims to pray together for peace and stability in our country and our city, which has been shocked by recent events."

Sakho added he hoped to hold similar prayers in Sunni and Shiite mosques in future, "to have a firm and true fraternal stand for peace, stability and security in our city."                  

The Kurds are seeking to integrate the province into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region clamming it to be historically a Kurdish city, the population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority of Arabs, Christians and Turkmen, lies 250 km northeast of Baghdad. Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem." Kurds see it as the rightful and perfect capital of an autonomous Kurdistan state. Photo: Yahya Ahmed/AP
Adnan Sayid Fattah Agha, the head of the Kurdish Kakiyah tribe, noted the event "brought us back to the original reality -- Muslims, Christians, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen together."

"Their lives and their destiny are one, living together."

Kirkuk lies at the centre of a swathe of territory claimed by the central government and Kurdish regional authorities.

Kurdish leaders want to incorporate the province in their northern autonomous region despite opposition from its Arab and Turkmen communities, in a row US officials have long said is one of the biggest threats to Iraq's stability.

A spate of bomb attacks against police in Kirkuk city killed at least 29 people on May 19, in the deadliest violence to hit Iraq in nearly two months.

Currently, US forces participate in confidence-building tripartite patrols and checkpoints with central government forces and Kurdish security officers in Kirkuk and across northern Iraq.

But the withdrawal of some 45,000 US troops still in Iraq must be completed by the end of the year, according to the terms of a bilateral security pact.

The oil-rich province of Kirkuk is one of the most disputed areas by the regional government and the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

The Kurds are seeking to integrate the province into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region clamming it to be historically a Kurdish city, it lies just south border of the Kurdistan autonomous region,
www.ekurd.netthe population is a mix of majority Kurds and minority of Arabs, Christians and Turkmen, lies 250 km northeast of Baghdad. Kurds have a strong cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, which they call "the Kurdish Jerusalem." Kurds see it as the rightful and perfect capital of an autonomous Kurdistan state.

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is related to the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk city and other disputed areas through having back its Kurdish inhabitants and repatriating the Arabs relocated in the city during the former regime’s time to their original provinces in central and southern Iraq.

The article also calls for conducting a census to be followed by a referendum to let the inhabitants decide whether they would like Kirkuk to be annexed to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region or having it as an independent province.

The former regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had forced over 250,000 Kurdish residents to give up their homes to Arabs in the 1970s, to "Arabize" the city and the region's oil industry.

The last ethnic-breakdown census in Iraq was conducted in 1957, well before Saddam began his program to move Arabs to Kirkuk. That count showed 178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turkomen, 43,000 Arabs and 10,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christians living in the city. 

In an effort to promote cooperation between Arab and Kurdish security forces along the disputed territory of which Kirkuk is at the centre, the US military began conducting tripartite patrols and running joint checkpoints with the two sides at the start of 2010.

Those efforts will conclude when US forces withdraw from the country by the end of this year, according to a bilateral security pact with Iraq.
 

Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, AFP | ekurd.net | Agencies 

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