The local authorities in Kirkuk cannot provide a count of the people who fled Tuz Khormato last week. “On April 26, some Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen left the town,” said Mohammed Khorshed, director of the organization department at the KDP’s Kirkuk headquarters. Due to the exodus being so recent — and for some, temporary — he does not yet have exact figures on how many fled the late April violence.
Khorshed noted that the recent influx is putting a strain on Kirkuk’s ability to host internally displaced persons. “We have so many already. The camps are big, but not big enough,” he said. Figures from his office indicate that there were 400,000 internally displaced persons in Kirkuk in July 2015 spread across several camps including Layla and Yahyawa. As some families don’t want to return, last week’s migration is sure to have an additional effect on the city’s housing market and camps.
The clashes in Tuz Khormato are between the peshmerga — the military of Iraqi Kurdistan — and the Popular Mobilization Units, groups of largely Shiite (and in Tuz Khormato, ethnic Turkmen) fighters formed to fight the Islamic State (IS) in 2014. In 2014, Kirkuk and surrounding locales such as Tuz Khormato were annexed to the Kurdistan Regional Government, although the central government in Baghdad still claims the area.
According to Khorshed’s office, the city is religiously and ethnically mixed at 51% Kurdish, 36% Turkmen and 13% Arab. Some Turkmen dispute these figures.
Members and supporters of the KDP government around Tuz Khormato blame the Popular Mobilization Units for the violence. “The reasons for the fighting are that a few Shiite militias want to take the town for themselves,” said Khorshed.