Human Rights Watch said that U.S. and coalition forces have failed to
bring law and order to Kirkuk and ensure the security of civilians, and
therefore contravene the Geneva Convention provisions specifying the
obligations of an occupying power.
Widespread looting and destruction of property are affecting all ethnic
groups in the city, while the situation outside of Kirkuk appears even
more precarious, Human Rights Watch said. A Human Rights Watch team
documented the expulsion of Arabs living in villages south of Kirkuk, on
the basis of what one official said were policy decisions by the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
“Kirkuk right now is a tinderbox,” said Hania Mufti, London director of
the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “U.S.
troops must stop the violence. And PUK leaders should take immediate
steps to halt any expulsions of Iraqi Arabs from their homes.”
Human Rights Watch said that the U.S. and interim Iraqi authorities,
including Kurdish representatives, should take steps to establish as
soon as possible a mechanism to settle claims over disputed property and
Human Rights Watch researchers spent four days in Kirkuk following the
withdrawal of Iraqi forces from the city on April 10, documenting
civilian deaths, forced expulsions, and other abuses committed by all
ethnic groups. The researchers interviewed Arab families forcibly
expelled from their homes, eyewitnesses to reprisal killings, and
Kurdish and Turkoman officials. The researchers also examined hospital
and morgue records.
Killings of Civilians
Since April 10, at least 40 civilians have been killed in the city. Many
of them appear to have died as a result of clashes between armed
civilians and Ba’ath Party officials. According to forensic records, at
least two died from close range single gunshot wounds to the head, and a
third, whose hands were bound, bore lesions on the neck consistent with
On April 13, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed Arabs from the
al-Shummar tribe who had fled four villages south of Kirkuk soon after
Kurdish forces had taken control of the area. Some of the villagers said
a local Kurdish official had given them written notification to leave
their homes within three days.
Soon thereafter, nearly 2,000 residents from the villages of
al-Muntasir, Khalid, al-Wahda and Umar Ibn al-Khattab took refuge in
tents and homes of fellow tribal members in the village of Sa’ad bin Abi
Waqqas and its vicinity. Several of the displaced said they had been
forced from their homes at gunpoint, while their possessions, including
cars, tractors, and household goods, were taken away. “They would have
killed us if we hadn’t left,” an elderly woman said.
Human Rights Watch investigators found the village of al-Muntasir
abandoned and ransacked. The doors of several homes in the village had
been spray-painted with the names of Kurds to whom the Kurdish
authorities had evidently given permission to eventually occupy the
homes. When Human Rights Watch questioned a PUK official in the nearby
town of Daqouq about the expulsions, he said they had been carried out
on the basis of a policy decision taken by the PUK’s Political Bureau.
This policy, according to the official, stated that all persons who had
been resettled from their original homes to other parts to the country
by the Iraqi government in the past should return to these homes. This
policy, the PUK official said, “has been approved by U.S. and coalition
forces.” No independent confirmation or denial of these forces’
approval was immediately available.
While senior PUK officials in Arbil told Human Rights Watch researchers
that they had given assurances to representatives of the al-Shummar
tribe that they need not vacate their homes, this does not appear to
have been implemented on the ground.
Human Rights Watch said that the United States, as the occupying power,
has a responsibility to act to prevent human rights abuses. According to
international law, an occupying power has a duty to restore and ensure
public order in the territory under its authority. Under the 1949 Geneva
Conventions (Fourth Geneva Convention article 6), the duty attaches as
soon as the occupying force exercises control or authority over
civilians of that territory.
Military commanders must prevent and where necessary suppress serious
violations involving the local population under their control or subject
to their authority. The occupying force is responsible for protecting
the population from violence by third parties, such as newly formed
armed groups or forces of the former regime. Ensuring local security
includes protecting persons, including minority groups and former
government officials, from reprisals and revenge attacks.
In 1973, as part of the Iraqi government’s policy to permanently settle
Arab nomadic tribes from central and southern Iraq, families from the
al-Shummar tribe were resettled in the al-Iskan area, some 28 kms south
of Kirkuk city. They were given homes as well as agricultural land that
belonged to forcibly displaced Kurds. A small number of families had
settled there following the 1991 Gulf war. They had been living in
Kuwait and were part of that country’s bidun community, to whom the
Kuwaiti government had denied nationality. Some of these families fled
to Iraq prior to the war, and the Kuwaiti government later refused to
re-admit them after the cessation of hostilities.
In 1975, following the collapse of the Kurdish revolt led by Mulla
Mustafa Barzani, the Iraqi government embarked on an extensive
“Arabization” program of the northern Kurdish provinces, expelling tens
of thousands of Kurds, Turkomans and Assyrians from their homes and
replacing them with Arab families from southern Iraq. At least 120,000
people belonging to these ethnic minorities were expelled since 1991,
most of them Kurds. For a detailed report on the expulsion of ethnic
minorities from the Kirkuk region, please visit