Muhsin Kareem from the Worker Communist Party of Kurdistan spoke to Solidarity about the situation in Kirkuk.
What has happened since the Iraqi army came into Kirkuk on 16 October?
The situation right now in Kirkuk is not one of a complete occupation; the city is look like to operate normally. But despite of Hashd Al- Sha’abi is now not in Kirkuk itself and deployed in outskirts, but the people are very worried and many have left especially the Kurds.
In addition to Kurds, people from all other communities, unless just in the very early days after the attack on the city and the areas around it, Turkmen and Arabs form Suni Fraction are all concerned about their lives and the direction that the city will take in the future. They see the central government as a Sectarian pro-Iranian shia Government and the Hashd al-Sha'abi as Shia type of Daesh affiliated to Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRG) under the direct control of Qasem Soleimani, who directs all of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards operations abroad.
The Kurdish forces who were in Kirkuk before 16th October cannot go back there, at least not armed. The offices of Kurdish Political parties are closed even the offices of PUK, which a fraction of it helped the central government and Hashd Al-Sha’abi to get in the city. The people are now questioning what either of the main parties in Iraqi Kurdistan (KDP, PUK) can do to protect them. Kirkuk is so-called “disputed territory” outside of the Kurdish Regional Government’s official control but has been run by them since Daesh were driven out in 2014.
Kirkuk province is a multi-ethnic province, there are Turkmen, Sunni Arabs and Kurds living together and the Shia sectarian Iraqi central government, which is essentially controlled by Iran, is not their government. In Kirkuk and Iraqi Kurdistan as a whole, people are being caught between the maneuvers of Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia who all want dominance in the region. The whole region and middle east, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon are all under a shadow of war as a result of this fight for dominance. After the events of 16 October when the Iraqi government came into Kirkuk and took control people feel the previous achievements of the referendum and before that Kurdish control have been pushed back, and the achievements of that period lost.
What do people think about the role of the KDP and PUK?
Faith in the regional government is very low. Not just because of what happened to them in Kirkuk and other so called disputed areas, as a result of the nasty secret agreement between a branch of PUK with Qasm Solaimani and the leaders of Hashd Al-Sha’abi to penetrate into the city, but also because of the way they are governing the people in Kurdistan. During 26 years of self control of the region, the Regional Kurdish government was not able to ensure electricity, drinking water and basic social needs. In a country sits on a sea of oil there are not enough stocks of kerosene needed to make sure people are warm. People are not starving but after wages were cut three years ago, anyone with savings has used them all up. The working class and low income families day after day are facing huge problems and struggling to survive. The class division is getting bigger and bigger between rich and poor. The Kurdish government is acting as a political representative of riches and does not care about the working people needs. The ordinary people see that the government is not belongs to them.
The blockade by Iran and Turkey has now disrupted people’s lives and access to goods and their families. People expected the PUK and KDP to protect them following the referendum, now people can see that they are divided and have more interest in their relationships with Iran and Turkey then for the question of the right of the Kurdish people to have the referendum recognised.
The day before the peshmerga retreated from Kirkuk the KDP and PUK leaderships met with Qasem Soleimani who told them that there would be a war if they decided to enforce the decision of the independence referendum. A day later they retreated as the militias and government came in. Giving them the space they needed to occupy the area. Some of the PUK peshmerga did stay behind and fight but the rest of them retreated and gave Kirkuk to the central government.
The situation is much worse in Tuz Khurmatu 55 miles south of Kirkuk. There, Hashd al-Sha’abi have looted shops, expelled residents killed and kidnapped civilians. It is not known how or when they can return. Tuz Khurmatu is a mixed area of Turkmen and Kurds and a majority of the Kirkuk province voted in favour of Kurdish independence.
What are you doing to get recognition of the referendum?
At the moment there are not big demonstrations against the government, people remain in shock and also are not able to defend themselves against the Iraqi army and the militias. Comrades are able to support people, provide advice on the situation and continue to call for support for the result of the referendum. We want to remove the local government but we do not have a trigger like in many European countries where we can just do this and the mechanism of overthrowing the government is different because they are parties with their militias and you have to fight them one by one and place to place…
Our party has a clear platform of demands and we need to build this up from the base. We want to organise groups of people across neighborhoods, in hospitals, factories and other workplaces to build the worker and public councils in Kurdistan. This is the start of empowering people to take control of their lives and their political and social destiny. Beside that we encourage people who are in political shock now to defend their rights in self determination and the results of referendum to be respected by Iraq and international community.
Now we need political support from across the left, humanitarian groups, progressive organisations who will stand up for the result of the referendum and help us to fight both the government and the pressure from reactionary neighbour's governments Like Iran and Turkey to release the blockade on Kurdistan and to stop interfering politically and even military in Kurdistan. In addition we need support from all freedom lovers all around the world to put pressure on UN and the European Government and US to stop supporting Iraqi Fascist pro Iran Government in denying the right of the people of Kurdistan who voted for independence on 25 September.