Kirkuk has always been a dangerous city, thanks to the fact that many different sectors of Iraqi society make their home there. However an estimated 52 murders in the city over the past two years – some have described them as targeted assassinations – is threatening to worsen social relations in the city.
Most of the murders, carried out since the middle of 2014 when the extremist group known as the Islamic State took control of the nearby city of Mosul, remain unsolved. Information from local security services suggests that 52 people – mostly politicians but also a cleric, a journalist and one ordinary citizen – have been assassinated in Kirkuk since June 10, 2014.
Whoever is organising the assassinations is taking advantage of the security crisis to get rid of their enemies.
Among these, the better known victims included Mohammed Khalil al-Jibouri, head of Kirkuk's Arab political bloc, judge Ibrahim Khamis, an official belonging to the local intelligence services, Ayden Rifat, a senior employee of the North Oil Company, Kamal Mohammed, a local politician with the Kurdish political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Ibrahim Ahmed, a cleric at the Sadiq Ameen Mosque and Mohammed Thabet al-Obeidi, director of a local radio station, Baba Gurgur.
And most of the murderers have gotten away with the crime. Only two people have been arrested and that was for the murder of al-Jibouri. The Kirkuk police say they are continuing to investigate other assassinations. Most of the murderers appear to be armed men of unknown providence and almost all have managed to escape getting caught by any security cameras.
The lack of arrests and progress in ongoing investigations has seen local groups turn on one another, with each accusing the other of the crimes. They say that whoever is organising the assassinations is taking advantage of the security crisis to get rid of their enemies.
“Armed groups have been carrying out targeted assassinations, in order to disrupt local security and to stir up conflicts between the people of Kirkuk,” Azad Jabbari, head of Kirkuk’s provincial Security Committee, told NIQASH. “But all of the city only has one enemy and that is terrorism. The people of Kirkuk should come together to confront this enemy.”
Jabbari played down the murders and said that while there have been people killed, there had also been many foiled plots, thanks to the deployment of Iraqi Kurdish military in Kirkuk, as well as Iraqi Kurdish interior secret service and local police.
Unlike Jabbari, Mohammed Khader, an Arab politician in the provincial government, believes that the various assassinations cannot help but have an impact on Kirkuk society. “These assassinations can be considered political terrorism,” he told NIQASH.
“These murders shouldn’t be allowed to impact the city,” Riyadh Sari Kahya, head of the local Turkmen Eli Party, added. “This needs to stop. In fact Turkmen are often under threat and some of them have been killed. The problem is that the cases have then been closed by the local police.”
Members of the security forces’ staff in Kirkuk did not want to give statements on the record, saying that they were not permitted to do this by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.
However as one senior staffer told NIQASH off the record, “most of these murders are classified as committed by ‘unknown assailants’. Either because there were no security cameras in place or because eyewitnesses will not come forward; the only information they give is usually in relation to the kind of vehicle that was seen at the scene.”
It seems that the main problem may well lie with the security forces themselves. Because of the demographic make-up of the city, there are a number of different security forces in action in different parts of Kirkuk. They can be classified as mainly Arab, mainly Turkmen or mainly Kurdish. This has resulted in a number of different departments looking after different aspects of Kirkuk’s security but without any detailed coordination between them. This is an ongoing, older problem in the northern city.
“The security forces need to be reorganised in Kirkuk,” argues Fadhil Najmuddin, a former investigating officer with the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior and an expert on security. “There are so many different services operating there, it’s led to less sharing of information and fewer joint operations.”
“The situation in Kirkuk provides potential murderers the opportunity to kill their opponents,” he concludes. “That has an impact on how different ethnic and sectarian groups deal with one another. And the way politicians react, by blaming one another just reinforces that.”