Kirkuk’s Department of Agriculture refuses to abide by a decree from the Iraqi Ministry of Justice, which stipulates disregarding all contracts and leases on agricultural land from the Ba’th regime period.
The decree was issued on 23 September for seven Iraqi provinces, including Kirkuk.
The decree is not for us, and it doesn’t change anything
Zuhér Ali, head of Kirkuk’s Department of Agriculture, told KirkukNow: “We are not [legally] bound by that decision from the Justice Ministry. The decree is not for us, and it doesn’t change anything, because it doesn’t resolve the issue of the agricultural lands.”
Agricultural lands in Kirkuk and some other provinces were distributed among Arabs from central and southern provinces of Iraq under the rule of the Ba’th regime. Most of the Arabs who were settled there left after the fall of the Saddam regime in 2003.
Tensions have been rising since the events on 16 October 2017, when Federal Government forces expelled Peshmerga Forces in the aftermath of the independence referendum held by the KRG.
Zuhér Ali stressed that they are only bound by decrees from the Agriculture Ministry, not the Justice Ministry. “We want to find a comprehensive solution for this issue, not slowing down the process. We will be working with the agricultural contracts.”
According to numbers from Kirkuk’s Department of Agriculture, 750 square kilometres (about 182,000 acres) of land belonging to Kurds and Turkmen farmers were leased to Arabs farmers.
In the past two months, Arab farmers have returned to those lands threatening to expel the original owners.
The Federal Government has recently formed a committee, headed by the Minister Turhan Mufti, to solve the issue. Members of the committee include MPs from all three main ethnicities of Kirkuk, the interim governor and the head of Kirkuk’s Agriculture Department.
Zuhér Ali said: “A number of recommendations were sent to the Council of Ministers and the Parliament. We await the findings of the committee. We will abide by any decision taken after the committee finalizes its work.”
Abdulnasir Abdulla, head of a Turkmen farmers group, welcomes the decree from the Ministry of Justice. He told KirkukNow: “But to what extent will it be implemented? We and the Kurds facing the same problem, if they don’t implement the decree, we will take a stance.”
90% of our agricultural lands in the subdistricts Yaychi, Pirdé, Targalan and Bashir are taken by Arab farmers
Abdulla added: “90% of our agricultural lands in the subdistricts Yaychi, Pirdé, Targalan and Bashir are taken by Arab farmers.”
Mardan Abdulrahman, head of Kirkuk’s Kurdistan Farmers Union, demands security guarantees from the government so they can work their fields.
“Unfortunately, part of the security forces works with the Arabs to take our lands. We are not enemies of the Arab; we are all brothers, but we can’t just stay silent while our lands and properties are being taken.”
Lack of a resolution for the issue since the fall of the Ba’th regime creates rists of conflicts. Mardan Abdulrahman says “those Arabs are armed and have managed to take some lands in Daquq and Palkana by force.”