Tuesday, May 30, 2006

IRAQ: Residents in north unite against sectarian conflict

SULAIMANIYA, 30 May (IRIN) - Kurds, Turcomans and Christians from northern Iraq have established independent organisations that aim to reduce the influence of sectarian militias operating in the area.

Two of the organisations are the mixed Peace Union for Iraqis(PUI) and the Kurdish Autonomous Freedom Organisation (KAFO).

"Iraqis in the region have begun to unite, without consideration of ethnic background, to prevent sectarian violence from spreading," said PUI member Dorah Muhammad, 38, from a village in northern Kurdistan near the Turkish border. "And we're asking the government to take action to clamp down on the militias."

The newly-formed organisations, whose members include politicians and civil society activists, aim to inform the public that ethnic strife will only serve to delay national unification and development. One way they hope to do this is by reaching out to school children by offering lessons and presentations on human rights and coexistence.

The initiatives come in the wake of recent fighting on the Turkish side of the border between the Turkish military and dissident Kurdish groups. "Militias have hijacked the peace ever since they began fighting across the border with the Turkish Army, which is looking to protect itself from insurgents inside Iraq," said Dorah. "In the end, though, this only caused more internal conflict."

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is working in partnership with the local community on the issue, in an effort to prevent an escalation of sectarian violence between Iraqi Kurds and ethnic Arabs. "We will not allow ethnic differences to destroy security in Kurdistan," said senior KRG official Kalif Dirar. "And we'll do whatever is required to continue being the safest place in this country."

According to Dirar, the semi-autonomous Kurdistan government is working with residents to disband the militias currently contributing to the tension on the borders with Iran and Turkey. "The local people are aware of the dangers of sectarian differences," he said. "They're united to fight this problem."

Many Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs in Kurdistan have also joined the cause. In the northern city of Kirkuk, however, such proposals have met with less success, due to ethnic tension arising from the outstanding land disputes that resulted from the "Arabisation" programme of former president Saddam Hussein.



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