incensed over the census

The date for the Iraqi census is fast approaching. After a period of relative peace, the looming survey has put heat under simmering conflicts between Kirkuk’s different ethnic groups. Kurds insist on the census being carried out on the scheduled date, but Turkmen and Arabs threaten a boycott.

The 2010 budget and assurances direct from the government promise that the census will take place on 24 October across Iraq but this could be open to change now that disagreements have surfaced.

The Turkmen Front, an umbrella for a number of Turkmen parties, demand the census’s postponement. A statement from the group claimed that ‘huge demographic changes in Kirkuk since 2003’, including the presence of 700,000 displaced people, the lack of a stable government and the security situation as reasons to delay it.

Hassan Turan, a leading member of the front and a member of the city's provincial council, said when the front announced its position that Turkmen are ‘determined to reject the census and postpone it until a new Iraqi government is formed and until Article 23, relating to the distribution of administrative positions in Kirkuk is being applied all across the city.’

Iraq’s first census took place in 1934, with the most recent in 1997. This one did not include Erbil, Sulaimaniyah or Dohuk provinces. The last census revealed a population of 19 million, not including an estimated 3 million living in the missing three provinces. Under the Baathist principles, the 1997 census did not reveal the different sizes of the different sects and ethnic groups in the country.

Under international standards, a census should have been held in 2007, ten years after the previous. However, that census was postponed because of the poor security situation, being rescheduled for 2009. It was again delayed, though, with deadlock over the conduct of the poll.

Disputes remain, especially in Kirkuk, where the multi-ethnic population of the city is divided. Turkmen and Arabs fear the census could show a Kurdish majority in the city at least in part down to the re-settling of many Kurds there since 2003.

Muhammad al-Jabouri, chairs the Arab bloc in Kirkuk province. he believes that Kirkuk’s population has swollen from 625,000 before 2003 to 1.25 million today. Many of those who have caused the population’s expansion are displaced Kurds, skewing, he and many other Arabs and Turkmen believe, the demographics unfairly in their favour.

‘The census will only give legitimacy to the Kurds' violations and lead to abuses to the rights of other groups,’ a census from the Arab Bloc claimed.

The Turkmen Front also stressed their concern about population changes. Citing slightly different figures to the Arab Bloc, they said they believed that ration card fraud was responsible for slanting the figures in favour of the Kurds.

In the 1970s, Kirkuk was subject to a deportation policy and changes to its administrative borders which aimed at achieving precisely the opposite. Saddam Hussein’s regime annexed neighbouring districts and forcibly displaced many Kurdish families, replacing them with Arabs. Kurds believe it is their right to correct this situation.

‘The objections of Turkmen and Arabs are mere propaganda and are baseless,’ said Azad Jabbari, a member of the Kurdish brotherhood list which occupies 26 seats in the provincial council.

‘If Arabs and Turkmen truly believe this, they are mistaken. I was young when I was expelled from the city. I returned with my family. The increase in the number of Kurds is for natural reasons. Many displaced people have returned to their home city. This is not something we should be ashamed of,’ he added.

Objections from Turkmen and Arabs already caused the postponement of last year’s census, leading to a lawsuit being filed by the Kurdistan Alliance against the government in the Federal Court. The Court ruled in favour of holding the census on the approved dates.

The Provincial Council’s President’s office released a statement in which it admitted that many parties were unhappy with it going ahead but concluded that it does serve the interests of all parties. The statement condemned a campaign launched recently to ‘hinder the census in Kirkuk with sharp statements.’

The census is important, not just for helping to map Iraq’s political future through demographic statistics but also its economic future.

‘The census is purely a technical issue and will give Iraq an important economic map, claimed the Directorate General of Statistics in Kirkuk.

‘The first phase of the census [numbering of houses] was due to start on 18 August, 2009 and end in May this year but the end date was pushed back to 18 July. The success of the census’s first phase was 96 percent,’ said the directorate.