Like in many other provinces of Iraq awakening councils are being formed in Kirkuk, despite Kurdish opposition, reviving Arab spirits in the city. The councils are likely to have serious social and security
Kirkuk remains a potential flashpoint of division as the province’s fate is awaited according to article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. It is an area that is well-known as a source of contention between the central government and Kurdistan region.
Hence the creation of the Arab awakening council has raised doubts and suspicions among the Kurds. For the Kurds, the council threatens to impose Arab hegemony on Kirkuk.
At the same time, the Kurds say the council fighters cannot be trusted. These are the same men who were previously members of Mujahidin and resistance groups and who proudly killed American and Iraqi soldiers, they say. Kurds believe that their control over security issues in Kirkuk has provided the city with some kind of stability compared to areas under Arabs control security. For these reasons a significant number of Kurdish leaders and citizens oppose the Kirkuk awakening.
This is not the first time the idea of forming tribal councils has been confronted by opposition. The same response was witnessed in Baghdad when the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance opposed the arming and strengthening of Sunni groups backed by Americans.
Only under American pressure has Kurdish opposition now started to diminish. At the same time, the number of awakening members in Arab areas of Kirkuk has increased and Sunni tribes increasingly consider it a political victory.
Abu Mushriq al-Rayyashi, an Arab from Kirkuk, told Niqash that “the Arabs in Kirkuk have regained their former status.” The Sunni Arabs - although a minority in the city - enjoyed many privileges denied the majority Kurds under the former regime. Al-Rayyashi expressed his pride as seeing awakening troops with their military uniforms entering the popular Domeez market.
The awakening has immediately proven successful among the Arab tribes with young men drawn by status and the $250 monthly salaries which have become the main source of income for some families. The only skill required for entry is the ability to carry guns regardless of age and military experience. At some checkpoints, teenagers can be seen carrying guns and performing security tasks alongside their fathers and brothers.
An additional factor for the success of the councils in mobilizing members is that the existence of these troops in Arab areas in Kirkuk prevents Iraqi army troops from raiding these same areas.
Critics of the councils say that they are servants of the American occupation. A popular joke says that members’ identity cards contained the American flag on one side and a dog’s head on the other, symbolising that awakening members are dogs to their American masters.
Nonetheless, Arabs say they feel safer with the new council. According to one man, Abu Rahman, the awakening troops will provide better justice. “Usually the government and the American army check Arabs and arrest them if they have any doubts. Now the awakening councils are Arab and they know the Arab families in Kirkuk and they know who is a terrorist and who is not.”