Arab-Kurdish rapprochement in northwest
Iraqi region of Nineveh
By Ahmed Younis, Khalid Waleed, Mustafa Mohammed -
Iraq, ICR Issue 393 IWPR
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Despite recent history of
violence, Sunni Arab and Kurdish politicians in
Nineveh are beginning to cooperate.
Mosul, the administrative centre of Nineveh
province. Photo: IWPR/ Ahmed
June 8, 2012
MOSUL, Nineveh, northwest Iraq, —
Residents of Iraq’s volatile Nineveh province say
they are cautiously optimistic that their lives will
get better because Sunni Arab and Kurdish
politicians have decided to work with rather than
against one another.
After Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was ousted in
2003, this northern province became one of the most
dangerous places in the country, despite American,
Iraqi and Kurdish efforts to crush the Sunni
insurgents and al-Qaeda militants who made Nineveh
Security is still a serious issue, along with poor
public services and high unemployment, and residents
blame many of the problems on continued animosity
between local Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders.
The Arabs have accused Kurdish leaders and their
“peshmerga” troops of abuses and discrimination
against non-Kurds. They have also accused the
Kurdish authorities of seeking to incorporate
Nineveh into the Kurdistan Region to the north.
Kurdish politicians argue that it is their community
that has been persecuted, and that Sunni Arab
insurgents have killed several thousand of them in
the provincial capital Mosul in recent years.
Sunni Arabs make up the majority of Nineveh’s
population, while the Kurds are the largest minority
In the local elections held in 2005, Kurds gained 31
of the 41 seats on the provincial council, giving
them control over local politics and security. In
the 2009 elections, power swung towards the Sunni
Arab population, whose representatives won 22 of 37
Kurdish council members subsequently boycotted local
government, a move which obstructed development
plans for Nineveh.
Despite these frictions, signs emerged last month
that relations between the two groups might be
In a step aimed at reducing tension, provincial
governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab, moved to
give Kurdish council members a greater say. While
the distribution of council seats will remain the
decisions will now be reached by consensus rather
than a straight vote.
“The differences of the past have disappeared,”
Nujaifi said. “A positive relationship with the
Kurds will be good for Nineveh’s people – both
groups can now cooperate to provide a better
standard of living for the people.”
The governor insisted that Sunni Arab interests had
not been compromised by the change.
“We have not abandoned the rights of our people,” he
Dindar Abdullah, the Kurdish deputy head of the
provincial council, said everyone in Nineveh stood
to benefit from reconciliation.
“The interests of the people demand reconciliation
among politicians,” he said. “This reconciliation
will be good for all of the province’s citizens,
whether they are Arabs, Kurds, Christian or anything
Nineveh is one of Iraq’s most diverse provinces, and
its population also includes Assyrian Christians,
Yazidis, Shabaks and other minority groups.
The province is often beset by electricity shortages
during the summer months, but in early June the
Kurdish Regional Govt announced that it would
provide power during this period.
Nujaifi attributed this offer to the political
changes on the provincial council.
“This step is a consequence of the good relationship
with the Kurds,” he said.
Residents of Nineveh representing various ethnic and
religious groups expressed hope that officials might
now tackle some of the province’s other problems.
“Officials will now work on setting up projects in
the province instead of being preoccupied with
arguments,” Younis Saleh, a 34-year-old Sunni Arab
Mervat Abdul Qadir, a 27-year-old Kurdish teacher,
believes that recent political developments may mark
a turning-point in the province’s troubled recent
“I am optimistic that the time of violence is over.
We will probably get better electricity this
summer,” she said.
Yunadim Tawfiq, a 56-year-old Christian civil
servant, said people in Nineveh were able to get
along despite ethnic differences, so their elected
representatives should learn to do the same,
“When politicians become peaceful, our lives will
become calm,” he said. “We Christians, Kurds and
Arabs all live together; let them try to live
together like us.”
Tawfiq also warned, however, that divisions among
Nineveh’s political leaders could easily resurface.
“Anything could provoke one of them to become
frustrated with another of them,” Tawfiq said. “Then
what will happen? There will be more tensions and
more arguments between them, and much more violence
and hard times for us.”
Some analysts argue that Nineveh has set a precedent
for how rival groups in diverse ethnic areas can
“Leaders should coexist peacefully and teach their
people how to do so,” Osama Murtadha, a
Baghdad-based political analyst, said. “Fortunately
they have started doing it in Nineveh, although it’s
taken a long time for officials there to learn that
lesson. Fighting results in nothing but blood, death
and destruction, not the prosperity, good standard
of living and other things that people dream of.”
Despite the more optimistic mood, Mosul is still the
scene of recurring violence. Two civilians and a
policeman were killed in a rocket attack on the
city’s police headquarters on June 5, AFP news
agency reported. The same day, two Iraqi army
soldiers were killed and three civilians injured
when an explosion targeted a military patrol in the
city’s Rabia area.
Ahmed Younis, Khalid Waleed and Mustafa Mohammed
are IWPR-trained reporters in Iraq.
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