01/19/2011, 00.00
IRAQ
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Iraq: fraud, insecurity, ethnic clashes and oil hamper census

by Layla Yousif Rahema
The population fears a political manipulation of ethnic groups by the strongest. In Kirkuk, Arabs and Turkmen suspect Kurdish officials of rigging outcome for control of the oil deposits. They could change the census to their advantage by putting Kurdish community in majority.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Iraq is still waiting its census. Twice announced and twice postponed, the first general census in the country since 1997 seemed possible after the formation of new government following the elections of March 2010. Yet, so far, a date has not even been announced.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, before being re-elected prime minister, had ensured compliance with October 24 in all 18 Iraqi provinces, despite the risks ventilated by many that the count of the population can be politically exploited in a country deeply divided on ethnic lines.

Some provinces immediately announced a boycott of the census. The province of Diyala, one of the most turbulent of Iraq with its capital Baquba, accepted the date. This area is home to a substantial Kurdish minority.

Kirkuk and Nineveh, however, of which Mosul is the capital, said they were favourable to the census if the government forces have full control of the area. Kirkuk and Nineveh are currently largely controlled by Kurdish peshmerga militias and the Arab peoples are concerned that the Kurds can use them to influence the outcome of the census.

According to Mahdi al-Allak, head of National Statistics Bureau, the continuous postponement of the census "is not a technical problem, but a political one." The same al-Allak said that provincial officials will not agree to the census if the peshmerga are not first replaced by the national army.

There are also disagreements on the forms to fill out. Arabs and Turkmen in Kirkuk, strongly opposed to the presence of Kurdish militias, want the form completed so as not to facilitate fraud. What worries most is the column of nationality that the peshmerga and Kurdish officials could amended in their favour to create a majority Kurdish community.

The most tense situation remains that of Kirkuk. The multi-ethnic and oil rich province has always been fought over by Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds. The census is a crucial step to reach the Kurdish goal of annexation. The enumeration of the population is provided for in Article 140 of the Constitution as a prelude to the referendum that will decide the status of Kirkuk , whether the city will be annexed to Kurdistan or will be part of a province under the administration of the Baghdad government. The stakes, however, are high and so for four years the popular vote has been continually postponed. The problem is related to energy resources. The second largest oil field in Iraq is located in Kirkuk, which also owns 70% of natural gas deposits in the nation. The risk is that if the referendum gives the city administration over to the Kurds, they would gain a vital resource, enough to ensure their eventual independence from the rest of the country.

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