Another Ethnic Group in Iraq Takes Up Arms

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Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 18 2014 1:27 PM

Another Ethnic Group in Iraq Takes Up Arms

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Turkmen in northern Iraq on June 16.

Photo by MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images

It has been almost a week since Kurdish paramilitary forces took control of the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk amidst Iraq's civil war between Sunni rebels and largely Shiite government forces, and now another group has joined the conflict—Iraqi Turkmen in Kirkuk.

The president of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, Arshad al-Salihi, announced on Monday that Turkmen militia forces have been mobilized to take up arms against jihadists and “to fight back” if Kurdish Peshmerga forces fail to return Kirkuk to the Iraqi government.

But the Kurdish Regional Government has no intention of relinquishing Kirkuk, an oil-rich city that has long been the center of dispute between the KRG and the Iraqi government. KRG’s parliamentary speaker Yousif Mohammed Sadiq told the The Telegraph that seizing Kirkuk was justified and the secretary-general of the Kurdish security forces Jabber Yawar dismissed ITF's declaration as "media propaganda."

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"Today the Peshmerga are fighting to protect [the Turkmen village of] Mullah Bashir and fighting ISIS there. In Kirkuk, the Peshmerga are there to protect all the different ethnicities," Yawar said.

But the Turkmen remain doubtful of the Kurds’ intentions. Here's more from Al Jazeera:

A Turkmen engineer from Kirkuk who asked to remain anonymous, said: "We don't trust the Peshmerga because they only look after their own interests. They opened the gates of the army bases and allowed normal people to take what they want. Then they allowed those weapons to be sold on the street. This is evidence that they do not care about law and order in Kirkuk. How can we trust them? People are saying that yesterday they looted the army bases, tomorrow they may loot our shops."

The ITF's announcement came a day after the predominantly Turkmen city of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, fell to ISIS militants. (Turkmen are, as you would expect, the ethnic group that predominate in Turkmenistan. The Iraqi Turkmen population is apparently part Shiite and part Sunni.)

Irene Chidinma Nwoye is a writer and former Slate intern in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.

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