Wednesday, April 16, 2003

On March 28, Human Rights Watch told us this would happen:

As U.S. and coalition forces prepare an assault on the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, U.S. forces have a responsibility to prevent the eruption of inter-ethnic violence, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said widespread reprisal killings, retaliatory forced displacement, and other acts of violence against resettled families are possible once tens of thousands of forcibly displaced people return to reclaim their homes.

Here's why:

Since the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi government has systematically expelled an estimated 120,000 Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians from Kirkuk and other towns and villages in this oil-rich region. Most have settled in the Kurdish-controlled northern provinces. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has resettled Arab families in their place in an attempt to reduce the political power and presence of ethnic minorities, a process known as "Arabization."

Those who were displaced were forced to abandon their homes, were stripped of most of their possessions, and were deprived of any means of livelihood....

Human Rights Watch researchers now based in Iraqi Kurdistan said the United States has not prepared for returning displaced residents of Kirkuk.

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch remind us that those predictions are coming true:

Dozens of civilians have been killed in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk since April 10, and looting and forced expulsions are continuing, Human Rights Watch said today....

Widespread looting and destruction of property are affecting all ethnic groups in the city, while the situation outside of Kirkuk appears even more precarious, Human Rights Watch said....

Killings of Civilians Since April 10, at least 40 civilians have been killed in the city. Many of them appear to have died as a result of clashes between armed civilians and Ba’ath Party officials. According to forensic records, at least two died from close range single gunshot wounds to the head, and a third, whose hands were bound, bore lesions on the neck consistent with hanging.

Forced Expulsions On April 13, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed Arabs from the al-Shummar tribe who had fled four villages south of Kirkuk soon after Kurdish forces had taken control of the area. Some of the villagers said a local Kurdish official had given them written notification to leave their homes within three days.

Soon thereafter, nearly 2,000 residents from the villages of al-Muntasir, Khalid, al-Wahda and Umar Ibn al-Khattab took refuge in tents and homes of fellow tribal members in the village of Sa’ad bin Abi Waqqas and its vicinity. Several of the displaced said they had been forced from their homes at gunpoint, while their possessions, including cars, tractors, and household goods, were taken away. “They would have killed us if we hadn’t left,” an elderly woman said.

Human Rights Watch investigators found the village of al-Muntasir abandoned and ransacked. The doors of several homes in the village had been spray-painted with the names of Kurds to whom the Kurdish authorities had evidently given permission to eventually occupy the homes....

Some people would argue that we should cheer the vigilantism, and I guess I understand that. But even right-wing Panglosses can't possibly cheer reprisals by natives of a region against people who were forced into that region by Saddam -- can they?

Did no one anticipate this? Did no one give a damn? Why wasn't there a plan to deal with it?

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