Iraq’s Kurdistan preventing Arab refugees return over disputes with Baghdad
Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government is not allowing around 4’200 Arab refugees to return to their homes freed from the grip of Daesh terrorists as part of efforts to boost the independence of the semi-autonomous region.
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The move comes as Kurdish residents and Arabs with KRG ties have been allowed to go back to 12 villages in the Hamdaniya district east of Mosul, the HRW said in a statement on Friday.
The displaced Arab population, most of which currently resides in the nearby Hasansham camp, has been denied the right to return despite the fact that anti-Daesh forces liberated the villages from terrorist control more than three years ago.
“The Kurdistan Regional Government is preventing thousands of Arab villagers from returning home without a lawful reason,” said HRW's acting Middle East director at, Lama Fakih.
“The fact that the KRG is permitting Kurdish and well-connected Arab residents back suggests that these villagers are being improperly punished,” she added.
KRG officials have brought up numerous excuses for blocking civilian resettlement in the area speaking to residents, aid workers and the HRW. Issues such as inadequate services, uncleared landmines, land ownership issues and terrorism concerns are some of the more common justifications for the decision.
The HRW, however, highlights that the resettlement of Kurdish residents in the area, and not Arabs, casts doubt on the authenticity of KRG's claims.
According to the report, a high-ranking Kurdish Peshmerga commander had told senior aid officials last October that Arab returns to the area would only be permitted if there was a political agreement between the KRG and the Iraqi government to “ensure no hostilities in the area”.
Kurdish authorities have reportedly admitted that the denial of Arab resettlement is due to the area being regarded as a sensitive “front line” territory in the KRG's dispute with Baghdad related to the KRG's illegal 2017 push for independence.
The territory is consequently regarded as a potential area for future fighting between Kurdish and Iraqi forces, according to the report.
The HRW said satellite imagery shows that the Peshmerga have been deployed to four of the 12 villages and built significant military infrastructure there but none of the villages have received significant population returns.
Tensions flared up between Iraq’s Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad after the KRG held a highly controversial plebiscite on independence on September 25, 2017, despite strong opposition from Baghdad and the international community -- particularly Iraq's neighbors Turkey and Iran.
The vote, which was initially meant to be non-binding, saw more than 93 percent of Kurds back secession, and the KRG characterized it as binding after the results were released.
Infuriated by the so-called independence referendum held in the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan and some other areas, the federal government strongly rejected the poll as “illegal,” and proceeded to impose economic penalties, seize the Kirkuk oil fields and halt oil exports from the region.
Following the vote, Baghdad also imposed a ban on direct international flights to and from the Kurdish region. The KRG at the time described the measures as “collective punishment.”
In October 2017, Iraqi federal forces retook control of Kirkuk and many disputed territories from the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in response to the referendum.
Kurdish militants had used a power-vacuum created by Daesh terrorists to overtake the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, despite the fact that the city was not legally under the authority of the KRG.
In December that year, however, Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan announced a deal to resume oil exports from Kirkuk.