Iraq again postponed its first census in more than two decades because of political wrangling over disputed areas in the country’s north, deputy planning minister Mehdi al-Alak said on Sunday, according to a report from AFP.
The October 24 census has now been delayed until December 5, the latest in a string of deferrals that have consistently put back a count originally due in 2007, when they were scrapped because of nationwide sectarian strife and violence.
“There was a special meeting of the cabinet today to discuss the issue of the census and discuss the situation … There was some flexibility for the date of the census, and they decided that it should be delayed until 5th December to finish the negotiations over the unresolved questions … The land dispute (between Kurds and Arabs) is the main dispute,” the minister told the news agency.
That row is mainly over a swathe of land in northern Iraq, centring around the provinces of Kirkuk and Nineveh, bordering the autonomous Kurdistan region.
Kurdish authorities in Erbil claim the land as their own, and Baghdad insists it should be administered by the central government.
There are fears that the dispute, particularly over the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, could trigger open conflict.
To reduce tensions in the disputed area, the US military has this year been conducting joint patrols and manning checkpoints with Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
The last census in 1987 counted a total population of 16 million, but international organisations now put the figure at around 30 million.