By Hamdi Malik for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
The Sept. 25 referendum, in which voters overwhelmingly voted for independence for Iraqi Kurdistan, increased the division between the Turkmen and Kurdish populations in the disputed city of Kirkuk. But Turkmens believe the Kurdish move, which raised objections from several parties, offers an opportunity to strengthen their position in Iraq.
Turkmens reported intimidation and repeated attacks on their party in Kirkuk both before and after the referendum. On Oct. 2, someone reportedly fired on the party headquarters and even lobbed a grenade at the building. Turkmen parliament member Hassan Tauran confirmed the news in a TV interview, adding, “This is the fifth attack during the week that followed the referendum.”
Turkmens strongly oppose the Kurdistan Regional Government's efforts to annex Kirkuk and other mixed-population areas, and they hold the Kurdish side responsible for the attacks. On Sept. 19, Turkmen parliament member Jassim Mohammed al-Bayati accused what he called the "gangs" of Kirkuk's Kurdish governor of kidnapping a young Turkmen.
But it is difficult to get to the truth behind these attacks amid the tension plaguing the city. Kurdish forces affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan gained full security and military control over the city after June 2014, when the Iraqi army’s 12th division withdrew in the face of the Islamic State's overwhelming advance.
Turkmens are the third-largest ethnic group in Iraq and say they have been denied their rights since Saddam Hussein was overthrown as president in 2003. Part of the problem is the deep sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite Turkmens that kept them from forming unified political blocs. When the new regime based on sectarian and ethnic quotas was established in Iraq, the Turkmens lacked the political experience of the Shiites and Kurds. The Turkmens have been involved in sectarian strife in many areas, particularly in Tal Afar, reaching the point of military clashes.