Dozens of civilians have been killed in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk since April 10, and looting and forced expulsions are continuing, Human Rights Watch said today.

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 other assets.

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 hanging.

Forced Expulsions
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.

Background
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 Iraq: Forcible Expulsion Of Ethnic Minorities.