Fear grips Kirkuk inhabitants amid absence of security and basic commodities

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By Marwan al-Ani

Azzaman, June 20, 2014

Prices of essential commodities and fuel have surged dramatically in Iraq’s oil-rich city of Kirkuk with some basic commodities no longer available, residents said.

Kurdish forces are in full control of the city and most of the province of which Kirkuk is the capital following the withdrawal of Iraqi troops.

Iraq is in turmoil in the aftermath of surprising advances made by militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).

The Jihadist group has swept through the provinces of Mosul, Salahudeen and Anbar and is in control of large swaths of territory in Kirkuk in Diyala.

Residents expressed uneasiness with the Kurdish control of the city, which so far has resulted in an upsurge in violence and alienated Sunni Arab tribes inside Kirkuk and in its suburbs.

Many of these tribes have turned to ISIS for support as they mistrust the presence of Kurdish militias, known locally as Peshmerga in their areas.

Residents fear for the worst with fuel and food prices sky-rocketing and Arab tribesmen mounting attacks on Kurdish forces.

A shopkeeper inside the citadel in Kirkuk said trade was sluggish and has almost come to a halt in certain commodities as farmers in villages and towns in the province have stopped ferrying their goods.

“There has been at least a 70% reduction in trading in the city when compared with last week before the coming of Kurdish militias,” the shopkeeper, who refused to give his name for security reasons, said.

ISIS militants in some areas were less than 20 kilometers away from Kirkuk, many of whose residents have opted to stay at home and only leave when really necessary, he added.

Jamal al-Jibouri said he saw a dark future for the whole province and not only its capital, Kirkuk.

“We are afraid. After 10 years of change we are back to square number one. Sectarian and ethnic tensions are high with half of the province’s area outside government control,” he said.

He warned that Kirkuk, as a mosaic of sects, religions and ethnicities, will face “hard times” if it is ruled by “one color.”

More worrying, according to Jibouri, were the “blurring lines” between Kurdish forces and ISIS militants with numerous towns and villages falling into “something like no man’s land” with both sides vying for influence.

“Our lives are in danger. We are very afraid and have no idea what the coming days have in store for us. Conditions are not natural. There is real danger threatening the future of Kirkuk as a city and province,” said Jibouri.

Gas prices have doubled and are expected to increase further so long some of the roads leading to Kirkuk remain closed.

Kurdish commanders try to allay the fears of the population, saying they have come to protect them and not frighten them.

“Peshmerga forces constitute no threat to the security of the Province of Kirkuk. The forces have come to protect the citizens from terrorists,” said Dulair Koran.

He said Kurdish troops would return to their barracks once they reinstate security.

But Nourideen Mahmoud, a major in the former Iraqi army which the U.S. disbanded, said he hoped Kurdish Peshmerga would stay away from populated areas.

“Residents are compelled to accept their presence for the time being for security and stability reasons. However, any mistake by the Peshmerga that violates the culture and tradition of Kirkuk would boomerang,” Mahmoud said.