11/22/2012, 00.00
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Power struggle in Kirkuk elicits archbishop's appeal for peace and dialogue

by Joseph Mahmoud
Tensions are running high between the central government and the Kurdish administration. Baghdad rushes troops to the city to keep in check the peshmerga. Clashes are reported south of the city. Mgr Sako talks about the civilian plight, asking for "security and stability". He also urges political leaders to be "messengers of peace".

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - Iraq's central authorities and the Kurdish regional government are increasingly at odds over who controls the city of Kirkuk, in the northern part of the country. The surrounding area holds huge oil reserves, estimated by some to top ten billion barrels. With a population of 1.3 million people, the city itself is a mosaic of ethnic groups, divided by language and religion (Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen; Muslims and Christians). For this reason, the local bishop, Mgr Louis Sako, has called on all parties to the conflict to engage in "peace and dialogue".

The Shia-led federal government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has tried to impose central control and limit Kurdish influence, especially the presence of peshmerga, Kurdish fighters. Kurdish leaders are opposed to Baghdad's intervention and this has led to clashes, like a recent incident in Tuz Khurmato, some 50 km south of Kirkuk.

Tensions remain very high in the city as residents fear an escalation of violence and fighting over who controls the territory and exercises supremacy. Mutual threats and warnings go back and forth between the Iraqi prime minister and the Kurdish region's leaders.

In order to avoid a bloodbath, the archbishop of Kirkuk has called on all sides to de-escalate the tensions and engage in dialogue in order to spare civilians, who are less and less confident about promises of "stability and security".

"Iraqis have suffered a lot," Mgr Louis Sako said in his statement. "Their eyes are tired to wait for better days; they no longer have the strength or stamina for more conflicts. Their concerns, hopes and prayers are for a life of security and stability".

As an Iraqi citizen and a resident of Kirkuk, the archbishop said, "I would like to join my voice to that of the many men and women of Kirkuk," including "many Muslim imams, who are urging all political parties as well as the central government and the Kurdish regional government to calm down the situation, and sit around a table to negotiate and engage in dialogue in a sincere manner," because, the prelate explained, "there is no peace without dialogue." The goal is to create "a safer environment, one that is just, with dignity and joy."

Lastly, for Mgr Sako, local and national leaders "must be messengers of peace," whom "heavens shall bless for their efforts."


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