07/29/2008, 00.00
IRAQ

Archbishop Sako: in Kirkuk, "shameful" acts against the country's "fragile" recovery

The archbishop of Kirkuk expresses the condemnation by political and religious leaders over the attack yesterday morning, which caused the death of 28 people. The attack struck a crowd demonstrating against the new electoral law. Political and economic interests are undermining the stability of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - Unanimous condemnation on the part of political and religious leaders over the attack yesterday in Kirkuk, which caused the death of 28 people and wounded dozens. Monday morning, a suicide attacker blew himself up in the middle of a crowd of demonstrators protesting against the new electoral law approved by parliament. The crowd had gathered near the local government offices, close to the cathedral of the Sacred Heart; the procession of demonstrators had just begun when the suicide bomber blew himself up, causing the massacre.

To prevent new attacks, the authorities have imposed a curfew, but early yesterday morning the situation already seemed to be returning to normal. The archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, tells AsiaNews that he is "saddened and ashamed", and emphasizes how seriously episodes of violence compromise the "fragile recovery of the country", where the situation seemed be improving in recent weeks. "The only way to resolve problems and divisions", he stresses, "is dialogue. Nothing is resolved with the logic of violence. For this reason, I have asked everyone, from the institutions to the government to religious leaders, to take on serious responsibility to save the city from disaster". The prelate calls attention to "the severe concerns of the people over the the future of the city", which is at the center of political and economic interests.

The population of Kirkuk is made up of various ethnicities, and the area around the city as well as all of Kurdistan contains huge oil reserves, drawing the interest of companies hungry for resources and raw materials. Political discussion in recent months has focused on the controversial referendum according to which the citizens - a mixture of Kurdish, Assyrian-Chaldean, Turkmen, and Arab ethnic groups - must decide whether to annex the city to Kurdistan, or make it part of a specially created region under the administration of the Iraqi central government. But there are too many interests at play, and they are too much at odds with each other. Kirkuk sits on top of Iraq's second largest oil reserves, and possesses 70 percent of the country's natural gas deposits. The risk is that if the "Kurdish option" prevails in the referendum, the Erbil government would have sufficient resources to guarantee its eventual independence from the rest of Iraq. This hypothesis is opposed by neighbors like Syria, Turkey, and Iran, which are already dealing with the pro-independence tendencies of the Kurdish community on their borders. But also by Washington, which is afraid of opening another front of ethnic tension.

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