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Iraq backs contentious plan to relocate Arabs in Kirkuk

A voluntary move would try to undo one of Hussein's most hated decisions.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published April 1, 2007


BAGHDAD - Iraq's government has endorsed plans to relocate thousands of Arabs who were moved to Kirkuk as part of Saddam Hussein's campaign to force ethnic Kurds out of the oil-rich city, in an effort to undo one of the former dictator's most enduring and hated policies.

The contentious decision was confirmed Saturday by Iraq's Sunni justice minister as he announced that he was resigning. Almost immediately, opposition politicians said they feared the relocation would harden the violent divisions among Iraq's fractious ethnic and religious groups and possibly lead to an Iraq divided among Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiites.

The plan was virtually certain to anger neighboring Turkey, which fears a northward migration of Iraqi Kurds - and an exodus of Sunni Arabs - would inflame its own restive Kurdish minority.

Tens of thousands of Kurds and non-Arabs fled Kirkuk in the 1980s and 1990s when Hussein's government implemented its "Arabization" policy. They were replaced with pro-government Arabs from the mainly Shiite impoverished south. Since Hussein's fall, thousands of Kurds who once lived in the city have resettled there.

Relocation would be voluntary. Those who choose to leave would be paid about $15,000 and given land in their former hometowns.

Death toll doubles

The Iraqi Interior Ministry raised the death toll in last week's suicide truck bombing against a Shiite market in Tal Afar to 152, which would make it the deadliest single strike since the war started four years ago.

A spokesman for the Shiite-dominated ministry, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said the toll nearly doubled after more bodies were pulled from the rubble in the northwestern city.

The bombing, which left 347 other people in a poor Shiite neighborhood wounded, set off a wave of reprisals by Shiite policemen and others that killed 47 more people and shattered the image of Tal Afar held up by U.S. politicians last year as a model of a turbulent city turned peaceful. It was blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq.

The U.S. military and the mayor of Tal Afar kept the death toll at 83, but they acknowledged that the figure could rise.

"We're still doing rubble removal so there could still be bodies buried," Lt. Col. Malcom Frost, commander of U.S. forces in the area, said in Baghdad.

The ministry's figure would make the bombing the deadliest single strike since the war began, but several multipronged attacks were larger, including a series of mortar rounds and car bombs that killed 215 people in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in Baghdad on Nov. 23.

The new details emerged as more violence struck Baghdad and areas to the north and the south. At least 38 people were killed or found dead in bombings and attacks around the country, including nine construction workers who died when gunmen opened fire on their bus south of Kirkuk. The deaths capped a week in which more than 500 people were killed in sectarian violence.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

Fast Facts:

 

The latest

U.N. move: The U.N. refugee chief said the agency will begin basing non-Iraqi staff in Baghdad for the first time since it sharply curtailed its international presence after its headquarters was bombed in 2003. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the desperate situation required a new commitment. "If you work at zero risk you do nothing."

Forward halt: Iraq found itself temporarily split into two time zones Saturday when the U.S. military set its clocks ahead an hour while the Iraqi government decided to wait a day to spring forward.

March toll: The U.S. military death toll in March, the first full month of the security crackdown, was nearly twice that of the Iraqi army, which U.S. and Iraqi officials say is taking the leading role in the effort, according to figures compiled Saturday. The U.S. toll was 81 and the Iraqi military toll was 44. However, the Iraqi figures also showed that 165 Iraqi police were killed in March, and many Iraqi police serve in paramilitary units.