Baghdad: The oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk is becoming the second deadliest city in Iraq after the capital, Baghdad.
At least 50 people were killed due to an upsurge in terrorist attacks in the past few days.
Speaking to Gulf News, General Anwar Mohammad Amin, commander of the Iraqi army in Kirkuk, is blaming terror gangs for the killings after they relocated their base of operations here.
He said intense security operations launched by Iraqi and US forces following the death of Al Qaida leader Abu Musaab Al Zarqawi in the nearby province of Diyala has forced remnants of the terror cell to flee to his area.
Aside from the problem of having the Al Qaida infiltrating the ranks of insurgents loyal to ousted president Saddam Hussain, security forces in Kirkuk are also busy trying to defuse ethnic tension between Arabs and Turkmen and the Kurds.
Authorities here are trying to implement confidence-building measures to prevent ethnic violence from erupting.
Not wanting to become another sectarian battleground like Baghdad, the Kurds played a positive role to keep Kirkuk’s ethnic balance.
The Kurds held several meetings with leaders of both the Shiite and Sunnis in a bid to thresh out whatever irritants they may have had and prevent an escalation of hostilities.
The Kurds have likewise been insisting on the return of more than 200,000 Kurds who were driven out and displaced by Saddam’s regime in an effort to make the Arabs a majority in this province.
This, however, is being met by stiff opposition by the Al Sadrit movement, which has emerged as an influential Shiite bloc in Kirkuk.
“This movement is resisting normalisation in Kirkuk, while Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki wants to take effective measures in this regard, but is careful not to clash with the Sadrits.” said Mohammad Amin, the head of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Kirkuk.
There are allegations pointing to the existence of Kurdish peshmerges (ethnic militant groups) in Kirkuk, but Fadhil Mirani, the secretary-general of the Kurdish Democratic Party denied these accusations.
“The role of the Kurdish Peshmerge is to protect the road between Erbil and Kirkuk and safeguard the borders of the two cities, because terrorist groups in Kirkuk try to infiltrate the secure Kurdish cities” he told Gulf News.
During the past weeks, Kurdish authorities allowed Kirkuk’s Arab businessmen to enter Kurdistan and invest there.
The move was said to be aimed at buying the loyalty of the Arabs in the area.