Ba'athist Arabization campaigns in North Iraq
The Ba'athist Arabization campaigns in North Iraq involved the forced displacement and cultural Arabization of minorities (Kurds, Yezidis, Assyrians, Shabaks, Armenians, Turkmen, Mandeans), in line with settler colonialist policies, led by the Ba'athist government of Iraq from the 1960s to the early 2000s, in order to shift the demographics of North Iraq towards Arab domination. The Baath party under Saddam Hussein engaged in active expulsion of minorities from the mid-1970s onwards. In 1978 and 1979, 600 Kurdish villages were burned down and around 200,000 Kurds were deported to the other parts of the country.
The campaigns took place during the Iraqi–Kurdish conflict, being largely motivated by the Kurdish-Arab ethnic and political conflict. The Baathist policies motivating those events are sometimes referred to as "internal colonialism", described by Francis Kofi Abiew as a "Colonial 'Arabization'" program, including large-scale Kurdish deportations and forced Arab settlement in the region.
The Yezidis, the Shabaks, the Mandeans and the Assyrians are ethno-religious minorities in Iraq, which historically used to be mostly concentrated in northern Iraq, and still composed a sizeable populations there by early 21st century, in line with more prominent ethnic groups of Kurds and Arabs.
Under the Iraqi Hashemite monarchy as well as the subsequent Republican regime, Yezidis were discriminated against – the measures applied included the loss of land, military repression, and efforts to forcefully enlist them in the central state’s struggle against the Kurdish National Movement.
Displacement of minorities and Arab settlement
From early 1975, under the regime of Saddam Hussein, both Kurds and Yazidis were confronted with village destruction, depopulation and deportation. The scale of Kurdish displacement in the North during the mid-1970s was mostly taking place in Sheikhan and Sinjar regions, though also covered an area stretching from Khanaqin town. The repressive measures carried out by the government against the Kurds after the 1975 Algiers Agreement led to renewed clashes between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish guerrillas in 1977. In 1978 and 1979, 600 Kurdish villages were burned down and around 200,000 Kurds were deported to the other parts of the country.
The Arabization program concentrated on moving Arabs to the vicinity of oil fields in Kurdistan, particularly the ones around Kirkuk. The Ba'athist government, was also responsible for driving out at least 70,000 Kurds from the Mosul’s western half, thus making western Mosul into a fully Sunni Arab area. In Sinjar, in late 1974, the former Committee for Northern Affairs ordered the confiscation of property, the destruction of the mostly Yezidi villages and the forcibly settlement of the population in either the eleven collective towns with Arab placenames, constructed 30 to 40 kilometres north or south of Sinjar, or other parts of Iraq. 137 Yezidi villages were destroyed in the process. Additionally, five neighbourhoods in Sinjar town were Arabized in 1975. The same year, 413 Muslim Kurd and Yezidi farmers were dispossessed of their lands by the government or had their agricultural contracts cancelled and were replaced by Arab settlers. In Sheikhan, in 1975, 147 out of a total of 182 villages suffered forced displacement, while 64 villages were handed over to Arab settlers in the years following. Seven collective towns were constructed in Sheikhan to house the displaced Yezidi and Kurdish residents of Arabized villages.
As part of the Al-Anfal Campaign, during the Iran–Iraq War, Saddam Hussein's Iraqi Ba'athist regime destroyed 3,000 to 4,000 villages and drove hundreds of thousands of Kurds to become refugees or be resettled across Iraq, as well as Assyrians and Turkmen. Some 100,000 people were killed or died during the al-Anfal campaign, which is often equated to ethnic cleansing and genocide. This forced campaign of Arabization was an attempt to transform the historically multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk, with a strong Kurdish majority, into an Arab city. Kurdish families were left with no homes after being evicted forcefully by Saddam's Iraqi soldiers and therefore had to migrate to refugee camps.
Cultural and political Arabization
In the Iraqi censuses of 1977 and 1987, Yezidis were forced to register as Arabs and since the mid-1970s, speaking Kurdish has been prohibited. Some Muslim Kurds were also forced to register as Arabs in 1977.
Legal basis for Arabization
The legal basis for Ba'athist Arabization measures was the Revolutionary Command Council’s Decree (RCCD) No. 795 from 1975 and the RCCD No. 358 from 1978. The fist authorized the confiscation of property from members of the Kurdish National Movement, while the latter allowed invalidation of property deeds belonging to displaced Muslim Kurds and Yezidis, the nationalization of their land under the control of the Iraqi Ministry of Finance and resettlement of the region by Arab families.
After the fall of Saddam's regime, many Kurdish families came back to Kirkuk. The policies of Kurdification by KDP and PUK after 2003 aimed to reverse the previous trends of Arabization, with non-Kurds being pressured to move, in particular affecting Assyrians and Iraqi Turkmen, which have prompted serious inter-ethnic problems.
Kirkuk referendum plans
The Kirkuk status referendum is the Kirkuk part of a plebiscite, that will decide whether the Kurdish regions within Iraqi governorates of Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah ad Din and Ninawa will become part of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. The referendum was initially planned for 15 November 2007, but was delayed first to 31 December, and then by a further six months. The Kurdish Alliance emphasized that the delay was for technical and not for political reasons. As the election was not called by early December 2008, it was postponed again as part of the deal to facilitate the regional elections on 31 January 2009. No fresh date has yet been set.
Article 140 of the Constitution of Iraq states that before the referendum is carried out, measures should be taken to reverse the Arabization policy employed by the Saddam Hussein administration during the Al-Anfal Campaign. Thousands of Kurds returned to Kirkuk following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The referendum will decide whether enough have returned for the area to be considered Kurdish.
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- Members-Only Content | Stratfor
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