<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

V. The 2003 Iraq War and its Aftermath

Voluntary Displacement of the Arab Settlers

On March 20, 2003, the United States and its allies went to war against Iraq, with the stated aim of overthrowing the government of Saddam Hussein.  Although a large-scale northern offensive could not take place because of Turkey’s refusal to allow U.S. troops transit and basing rights on its territory, the Kurdish areas did prove an important launching ground for a second front against the Iraqi forces.  U.S. Special Forces based in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq worked closely with the Peshmerga forces of the KDP and the PUK.  As the intensive U.S. bombing campaign began to have its effect on Iraqi forces, the Peshmerga forces moved south with the U.S. Special Forces, ultimately seizing control of a large swath of land which they considered historically Kurdish, from Khanaqin on the Iranian border to Tuz Khurmatu in the center and Sinjar on the Syrian border—an area that included the main northern city of Kirkuk.

Much of the Arab population brought to rural areas in the north during the Arabization campaign fled during the war, leaving large swaths of territory unpopulated.  Among the reasons cited by the Arabs for their flight were the intensity of the bombing campaign and the proximity of the front lines with its associated dangers, fears of revenge from returning Kurds, and in many cases the remarkable recognition that the land they lived on did not truly belong to them, but rather to the Kurds or other minorities who had been expelled.  Equally remarkable, although sporadic violence and intimidation by Peshmerga forces did take place (see below), Human Rights Watch is not aware of a single massacre committed against Arab settlers by returning Kurds or other minorities.  This is an experience vastly different from that of the Balkans, where bloodshed was routine during the various “ethnic cleansing” campaigns that characterized those conflicts.

The majority of the displaced Arab families interviewed by Human Rights Watch clearly stated that they fled their villages long before any Kurdish fighters ever reached them, in order to avoid bloodshed.  For example, Badr  ‘Arab al-Budair, one of about 150 al-Budair tribal families moved from Diwaniyya to Khanaqin in 1975, explained how he had fled his home during the war:

When the war started, the [Iraqi] army pulled out of the area between us and [Kurdish-controlled] Kifri.  The tribes remained alone, without any force [defense].  The bombardment of American aircraft came on our homes, and the shelling of the Kurds started falling on us.  So we moved with some of our goods from our places in Kifri and came here [to Ba’quba].  We left behind all of our agricultural products and goods.  I left a tractor and its instruments, two million dinars worth of agricultural products, and my house.72

The majority of Arab families who fled their villages during the war sought safety in nearby urban centers, such as Kirkuk and Mosul.  When they attempted to return to their villages after the war, most were prevented from doing so by the Kurdish civilians and fighters who had returned to the same villages from which they had been originally displaced. 

’Abdullah ‘Ali Mudhar al-Hadidi, a thirty-eight-year-old Arab farmer who settled in Musikan village in Shaikhan district in 1975 together with fifteen other families, described how he and the other villagers fled from Musikan after some fifteen armed villagers were killed during a U.S. coalition bombing raid.  After the war ended, he and two others tried to go back to their village to retrieve some belongings, but were arrested and detained for two days by armed men loyal to Mas’ud Barzani’s KDP:

I was part of a group of three men, unarmed.  After the coalition forces took control of Mosul, we just went back to the village to retrieve some goods from our houses.  The Peshmerga arrested us and detained us in their office for twenty-four hours.  They then moved us to detention in Faruq town.  The building had a yellow flag, they belonged to Mas’ud [Barzani’s KDP].  They didn’t do anything to us, they treated us normally, but they told us that the next time we came to the village, they would detain us longer because these villages belong to the Kurds, and we are not allowed to go back anymore.73

Case Study: Kis Qal’a village, Shaikhan district

The village of Kis Qal’a, located in the Shaikhan district of Nineveh governorate just north of Mosul, provides a typical example of the sequence of events in most of the formerly Arabized areas of northern Iraq.  According to Haji Muhammad Ya’qub Hussain, an official in the agricultural department in Shaikhan district, the Revolutionary Command Council issued an order in March 1975 nationalizing all of the land in the district and other neighboring districts: “There were 188 villages in Shaikhan.  The government cancelled all of the property certificates, of the Kurds and the other nationalities in the villages.  Most of these lands, maybe ninety percent, were owned by the people [living in the villages.]… The law of 1975 Arabized the whole area, and brought the Arabs to all of the Kurdish villages.”74

Prior to the expulsion of the Kurdish villagers, the 1,600 dunums of land that made up Kis Qal’a were owned by four Kurdish brothers who were leading members of the Zitki tribe.  The brothers had title deeds to the property, and the other villagers of Kis Qal’a worked for them as tenant farmers.

Shaikh ’Abd al-Karim ‘Abd Zitki, the Kurdish leader of Kis Qal’avillage and a descendant of the original Kurdish owners, recalled how the Iraqi government had kicked him and the other villagers of Kis Qal’a out of their homes on April 15, 1975:

The eviction and expulsion happened in one day, and on the same day they brought the Arabs.   I was born in 1957, so I was seventeen at the time.  They came and ordered us to leave Kis Qal’a.  We could choose where we wanted to go, but the only condition was that it had to be above the town of Atrush [located inside the then just-declared Kurdish autonomous zone].  The ones who came to expel us were the heads of Shaikhan district, with the police and Ba’thists.  The expulsion was peaceful, but we were ordered to leave.

We were allowed to take only the household goods and furniture, but nothing else.  We also took our animals.  We were provided with transportation by the government, some trucks.  We were settled in a remote area [near MusikaninShaikhandistrict].  We arrived at the end of April, in a field of grass.  We had to build our own houses from mud.75

Most of the Kurdish villagers lived in Musikan village until the 1991 Gulf War, when they were forced to flee the fighting and seek refuge in Turkey.  After they returned to Musikan, they found that their homes in the village were destroyed by the Iraqi army.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) settled the families in an IDP camp near the town of Zakho, near the Turkish border.  The families lived in the camp until their return to Kis Qal’afollowing the collapse of the Iraqi government in 2003.

The Arabs who came to the Kurdish village of Kis Qal’a mostly belonged to the al-Hadidi tribe.  The Iraqi government expanded Kis Qal’a into a larger village, ultimately housing some 200 Arab families. 

Shaikh Mustafa Ahmad al-Warsan, the head of the al-Hadidi tribe, explained to Human Rights Watch that prior to 1975 his tribesmen used to live landless in the al-Jazeera desert or work as sharecroppers. “The government announced at that time to all the tribes in al-Jazeera that there were irrigated lands available in the north, and most of the people went to the north for these lands,” he explained.  “The agreement the government gave us was that we had rental contracts with the government.  Each farmer had a contract and used to pay rent each year, and the contract was renewed annually.”76  ‘Aziz Hazza’ Muhammad al-Hadidi, a fifty-year-old Arab farmer who was part of a group of several hundred families of the al-Hadidi tribe who settled in 1974-75 in Kis Qal’a, explained how they had come there:

We moved to Kis Qal’a in 1975-76.  Before that, some of our tribe was living in al-Jazeera desert, others in Shaikhan district.  The government didn’t give us much, only 300 Iraqi dinars per family. …They told us that some rebels had come from this village, and that they wanted Arabs to go there.

When we arrived, the village was completely empty.  We don’t know what happened to the Kurds; we only heard they were displaced and were given some money. They displaced the Kurds from the village peacefully, and gave them money for their lands.  At that time, there were only fifteen houses in the village belonging to the Kurds, it was a very small village, divided into a Kurdish part and an Arab part.  So we built new houses near the main road.77 

A second Arab villager from Kis Qal’a, Ibrahim Mudhar Saleh al-Hadidi, told a similar story:

We went to Kis Qal’a in 1975.  Before 1975, we were [landless] people, living from place to place with our sheep, we were shepherds.  We used to live in tents before 1975.

In 1975, the government gave us land and resettled our tribe.  When we arrived in Kis Qal’a, it was totally empty, an abandoned village—the government paid the families some money and they left.  There were only ten houses belonging to the Kurds before 1975, it was a very small village.  We built our own houses, with our own money.  The government only gave us the land to farm and irrigate, each family received twenty-two dunums.78

Most of the Arabs interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the Kurds had been compensated at the time of their forced dislocation, an assertion that is vehemently denied by the displaced Kurds, including the villagers of Kis Qal’a.  In all likelihood, Iraqi government propaganda asserted that all displaced families had been compensated, but such compensation did not actually take place.

The enlargement of the village of Kis Qal’a during the Arabization period meant that the lands of the neighboring villages were confiscated and re-assigned to the Arab farmers of Kis Qal’a.  Among those who lost their land were inhabitants of the neighboring village of Shif Shirin, which had been Arab for hundreds of years.  The Arabs of Shif Shirin, also members of the al-Hadidi tribe, bitterly complained about the “new” Arabs who arrived:

During the Arabization, they took all of our land, 800 dunums.  They gave us back only seven pieces of land of thirty-two dunums each.  They tried to evict and displace us to the north, accusing us of having stronger ties with the Kurds than the Arabs.  The Arabs who had come tried to press the government to expel us.79

During the 2003 conflict, the situation in Kis Qal’a changed quickly.  After living there for nearly three decades, the Arabs abandoned the village and the former Kurdish residents returned.  ‘Aziz Hazza’ Muhammad al-Hadidi described their flight:

During the war, heavy bombardment started.  At the beginning, no one kicked us out [of the village], we only left for our safety.  There were heavy bombardments on our village and on other villages.  There were twenty villagers [reportedly] killed in a nearby village.  So we left.  When the war ended, the Kurds took control of the entire village, some were Kurdish civilians and others were Peshmerga.80

Afterwards, some of the Arabs tried to return to the village, but the Kurds refused to allow them: “Some of our people went to negotiate with the Kurds, but the Kurds told us not to come back to the village anymore.  We went multiple times. … They threatened us and destroyed some houses.”81  Ibrahim Mudhar Saleh al-Hadidi also tried to return to his home in Kis Qal’a, but was prevented from doing so by the Kurds who had returned: “They came out of the houses and told us we were not allowed to enter the village.  They threatened us, saying that if we come again, they will use weapons and chop us to pieces.  They will kill all of us, so it is better not to go back.”82

Notably, the returning Kurds did not evict the Arabs who had lived in the neighboring village of Shif Shirin for centuries.  In fact, at the time of Human Rights Watch’s visit, the elderly Arabs of Shif Shirin were hosting a banquet for the Kurdish neighbors they had grown up with, but had not seen since the mid-1970s.

Shaikh ’Abd al-Karim ‘Abd Zitki, a member of the KDP military bureau and a descendant of the original landowners of Kis Qal’a, had returned home and was in charge of village affairs when Human Rights Watch visited Kis Qal’a.  He was adamant that no Arabs would be allowed to come back to Kis Qal’a:

I will not allow them to come back to this village, because they don’t belong here.  Their lands are south of Mosul, in the al-Jazeera.  All of the ones who came to occupy our village were Ba`th Party members.  This village will be all Kurdish. …The decision that no Arab should be allowed to return was made by the Kurdish authorities.  The Arabs don’t want to stay here anymore, they know they were brought here by Arabization.83

At the time of Human Rights Watch’s second visit to Kis Qal’a in September 2003, about fifty Kurdish families had settled in the village, all of them members of the al-Zitki tribe.  According to Shaikh ’Abd al-Karim ‘Abd Zitki, not just the original inhabitants of the village but any member of his tribe was welcome to come settle in the village.  As head of the tribe and one of the original landowners of the village, he claimed the authority to assign plots of land to returning families.  The returning Kurds were in need of a lot of assistance, according to the shaikh: “We don’t have a water treatment plant, we don’t have seeds to plant, no fertilizers, and we need irrigators for the summer season.  We need cement and reconstruction materials.  The road needs to be asphalted.”84

The Kurds gave the Arabs from Kis Qal’a half of the harvest that the Arabs had planted prior to their displacement, but considered that to be the end of their interaction with the Arabs: “The Arabs have finished totally from here.”85  Many of the Arab families displaced from Kis Qal’a were still living in the Shaikhan district, under dire, crowded conditions in public facilities such as nearby abandoned military barracks and an empty amusement park, called Shallalat (Waterfalls), or in their traditional tents.

Aside from the harvest agreement, which was brokered by U.S.-led coalition authorities for the entire north, no Iraqi or international authority had played any role in the return to Kis Qal’a of the original Kurdish owners.  The Arab settlers displaced from the village did not have any forum to turn to for the adjudication of the dispute.  The returning Kurds did not yet have their land rights re-established, as there was no legislation in place to allow for such a redress at the time of the Human Rights Watch visit in September 2003.  In effect, the residency of the Kurds in the village, and the displacement of the Arabs, was based on the change in power balance in northern Iraq rather than on a legal determination of rights.

Most Arab families displaced from Kis Qal’a conceded in interviews with Human Rights Watch that it was unrealistic for them to expect to return to Kis Qal’a, and were willing to consider alternative accommodation.  For most families, proper housing was a greater priority than farmlands, and some suggested that they would be satisfied with compensation for their lost homes or a new residence.

Forced displacement of Arab Settlers

While the majority of Arabs who had come north during the Arabization campaign fled their homes without facing direct threats or violence, a significant number who chose to remain in their homes did face direct threats and intimidation from returning Kurds, although Human Rights Watch is not aware of many cases in which such threats materialized into violence or killings.  In almost all cases, returning Kurds left pre-Arabization Arab populations alone and focused their threats and intimidation on the Arabs who had come north during the Arabization campaign.  In most cases of intimidation documented by Human Rights Watch, fighters and sometimes civilian politicians of the two main Kurdish political parties—the KDP and the PUK—took a direct role in the intimidation, suggesting that the two political parties either actively supported the forced displacement of Arabs who had come north through Arabization, or at the very least condoned such abuses.  As discussed below, even though U.S. forces often reached trouble areas after forced displacement of the Arabs had already occurred, Human Rights Watch found that most U.S. troops took aggressive steps to end such abuses once they reached the scene.

Obtaining housing for the families of those killed by the former government and for Peshmerga families who spent decades fighting the government and now expect some rewards for their years of service and the loss of relatives, appears to be a central theme running through many of the cases of abuse documented by Human Rights Watch, including the cases of Khanaqin, Doshivan, Domiz, and Kirkuk documented in this report.  Both the KDP and the PUK are under great pressure to provide benefits to these important constituencies, but these constituencies often do not have personal land or property claims.

Case Study: Khanaqin

The most widespread forced displacement documented by Human Rights Watch was that of hundreds of southern Shi`a families who had been resettled around the border town of Khanaqin in 1974-75.86  Human Rights Watch spoke to representatives of all four of the Shi`a tribes who claimed they had been forced out of Khanaqin by PUK officials, and found their stories very consistent.  According to Shaikh ‘Ali ‘Aziz, a leader of the al-Shuraifi tribe, PUK leader Jalal Talabani visited Khanaqin and neighboring Jalawla’, staying for approximately two hours to meet with local and returning Kurdish officials.  According to Shaikh ‘Ali ‘Aziz al-Shuraifi, PUK representatives came to his home almost immediately after the meeting and told him that all of his tribe’s families had to leave the area immediately:

After the meeting with [Talabani’s] officials, the leaders of his party came to us and said, “You can’t stay here, you must leave immediately.”  I spoke to the leaders of the PUK, wanting to negotiate with them.  I explained that we had household goods and needed time.  They came to my house, and said they had an order from Jalal Talabani that every Arab who came after 1975 had to leave. 

So they took our agricultural instruments and animals from our families all over the tribe.  We were pushed out of Khanaqin and went to nearby al-Sa’diyya.  Then the Kurds came to al-Sa’diyya and evicted us from there also.  We spent three or four days in al-Sa’diyya—every few hours the Peshmerga would come and tell some families we had to leave.  They came in groups.  After four days, none of us were left.87

MurayyaJaber Faris al-Fahd, a fifty-year-old Arab who owned a home in Khanaqin, had just fled from the town when Human Rights Watch located him near the village of Khan Bani Sa’ad, just north of Baghdad, on May 12, 2003.  He described how he had been subjected to a constant campaign of intimidation, threats, and force, until he finally decided to leave his home:

The Kurds, the Peshmerga, were shouting at me everyday, saying “Leave the house or we will kill your sons, because the land you are occupying belongs to the Kurds.”  They came to my house everyday.  They abused me.  One beat me three days ago.  He came to my house with many men carrying weapons.  He said, “You must leave your house immediately.”  I told him that I agreed, because I had nothing to defend myself with.  He grabbed my head and slammed it against the window of his car, and then threw me into the car.  Then they put me in prison for two days.88

When Human Rights Watch visited Khanaqin on June 1-2, 2003, PUK officials were still threatening Arab families who remained in the town.   Ikhlas ‘Awad, a thirty-four-year-old Arab woman who claimed she was born in Khanaqin in 1970, before the onset of Arabization, remained in her home in al-Shu’la neighborhood of Khanaqin, living together with two other Arab families who had been evicted from their homes.  At the time Human Rights Watch visited their home, it was being guarded by U.S. armored cars to prevent further intimidation.

Ikhlas ‘Awadand her family had purchased a destroyed Kurdish home – probably a home belonging to a Kurdish family evicted under Arabization – in 1992, and had reconstructed the home.  When Kurdish forces took control of Khanaqin, four armed Kurds who identified themselves as Kurdish security forces and were in camouflage uniforms came to her home, beat her and her husband, and stole most of their household goods.  Two days after this first attack, armed Kurdish security forces again came to their home, confiscated their nationality cards (a crucial ID document in Iraq), and evicted three families from their homes, taking them in cars to the neighboring town of al-Sa’diyya, where the family stayed for twenty days in a tent until they were able to obtain permission from U.S. forces to return to their home around May 20, 2003.

The family of Ikhlas ‘Awad continued to face intimidation and threats from Kurdish officials even after they returned with permission from U.S. coalition forces.  Two days before the Human Rights Watch visit to the family, a Kurdish official had come to their home with two armed Kurds, asking the family: “Are you still here?  You must leave the house immediately!  Where is your husband?  Do we need to arrest him again?”  Ikhlas ‘Awad’s husband fled the town, fearing arrest.  The next morning, the same Kurdish official came again to the house, kicking down the door and threatening the remaining women: “He said he would shoot me and all my children, that he would occupy the house and that it would be better if we leave peacefully.”  Ikhlas ‘Awad then went to the local U.S. commanders, who immediately sent troops to guard the home.89

Many other families in government-owned housing in Khanaqin faced similar eviction threats from PUK officials—including Kurdish and Turkoman families, in addition to Arab families.90  It appears that the main motivation behind many of these evictions was to free up housing for PUK Peshmerga families, and the families of PUK members who had been killed (“martyred”) by the government of Saddam Hussein, rather than to allow those displaced by Arabization to return.  In many cases, the PUK families who wanted to lay claim to the housing had already written their names on the homes.

The Turkoman family of Khalid Rustum Ridha who had lived in Khanaqin for generations, faced such threats to leave their home.  Soon after the Kurds took control of Khanaqin, a Kurdish man came to their home and wrote the name of his brother, Muhammad Kaidar, a PUK supporter who had been killed decades before, on the home’s exterior wall, and told the family to leave.  The family went to the U.S. forces based just a few hundred meters away, who put up a sign at the home saying that no one was allowed to evict the family by force.91  A few days later, the brother of Muhammad Kaidar came back and tried to rip down the sign.  When one of the sons of the family tried to stop him by telling him that U.S. forces had put up the sign, the brother responded, “What coalition forces?  We [Kurds] control Khanaqin,” and hit the boy with a brick.  Despite the protection provided by the U.S. troops, the family continued to be regularly intimidated and was considering leaving Khanaqin.92

Two of their immediate neighbors faced similar problems.  Maysun Muhammad Shihab, a Kurd whose husband was a low-ranking Ba`th Party member,93 explained that one week after the PUK arrived in Khanaqin, she was ordered to go to the PUK office and told that they had to evacuate their home within twenty-four hours, as it now belonged to the family of a slain PUK Peshmerga named Majid Karim Ghaydi: “I told them that we are very poor and couldn’t afford rent, and they said that was our problem.”  The family credited the U.S. forces with preventing their eviction by guarding the home: “If the Americans were not here, we would have been kicked out on the first day.”94

Muhammad ‘Ali Mandan, an Arab, lived in the same housing complex: “When I came here, there were no Arabs or Kurds in the area, because of the heavy bombardment during the Iran-Iraq war.”  He said that after the 2003 war, his house was claimed by the mother of Hassan Mahmoud Sakha, a Kurd killed in 1963:

After the fall of the government, Kurdish Peshmerga came to my house with weapons.  They wrote on the main gate of my house that this house belongs to a Kurdish martyr.  … Then they informed me that the head of the Asayish [Kurdish security forces] wanted to see us, his name is ‘Awad ’Abd al-Ghafur.  I went to see him and he told me, “If you don’t leave your house, I will hit you and then kick you out—it is better to leave voluntarily.”95

Following the threats, Muhammad ‘Ali Mandancontacted U.S. forces who came to provide security to the homes in the area.  A few days afterwards, Kurdish officials threatened his wife, saying, “If you go to the coalition forces again, you will see what will happen to you.”96  A member of the Kurdish family claiming the home came to rip down the sign U.S. troops had put up.

In al-‘Askariyya neighborhood of Khanaqin, which was built by the Iraqi government on land that previously belonged to expelled Kurdish families, the Arab inhabitants faced similar problems.  The family of Samer Nizar Jassem al-Tay, a Turkoman who had changed his ethnic identity to Arab in order to be allowed to stay in Khanaqin, bought their home in the al-‘Askariyya neighborhood in 1998 from an Arab.  Almost as soon as the PUK took control of Khanaqin, the family faced violent threats:

The day after, at sunrise, the [Kurdish] family next door came with the Peshmerga, kicked down our door, and came inside.  It was 8 a.m.  They told us that we had to leave by 11 a.m. or they would kill all of us in the house.  They pushed down my mother.  They said that if we didn’t leave within three hours, they would throw grenades at us and the house would be our grave.  They were wearing military uniforms.97

They were threatened multiple times over the next few days, until they approached U.S. troops.  After they received U.S. protection, one of the Kurds who had threatened them visited the house again, telling the family that “the coalition troops cannot protect you forever, because they will leave one day.”98

Some residents from Khanaqin had already been kicked out of their homes by returning Kurds who claimed to be the original owners.  Shihab Salim ’Abdullah, the son of a Turkoman father and a Kurdish mother, changed his ethnic identity to Arab in order to remain in Khanaqin and joined the Ba`th Party  in order to keep his job at the post office.  He purchased a home in the al-‘Askariyya neighborhood in 1997, and later found out he was the third owner of a house originally seized from an expelled Kurd.  After the war, a Kurd who had been expelled in the 1970s came to the house with his armed sons, and ordered Shihab to leave immediately.  U.S. forces allowed the returning Kurd to stay in the home, telling Shihab that he could refer his dispute to the courts once they started functioning again.  A second home that Shihab was building for his sons was also seized by Peshmerga, who used the unfinished building as a local base.99

The Civil Affairs (CA) unit of the U.S. forces in Khanaqin took steps to stop evictions inside the town of Khanaqin, regularly dispatching guards and even armor to homes under threat.  Most of the CA team had served before in the Balkans, and realized the importance of responding immediately to revenge attacks and home evictions.  However, by the time U.S. troops arrived in the Khanaqin area, the majority of Arabs had already fled the area, either during the war or because of threats from Kurdish forces.  The PUK officials in Khanaqin also continued to defy U.S. orders not to engage in house evictions, despite repeated and direct requests.

In an interview with Human Rights Watch, the PUK representative in Khanaqin, Mala Bakhtiar, denied that his officials had committed forced evictions.  Mala Bakhtiar, himself a victim of the Arabization policies, explained that the Iraqi government had evicted more than 90 percent of the area’s Kurdish residents since the mid-1970s, a population he estimated at 75,000.  Mala Bakhtiar gave a version of events radically different from that of the victims of forced evictions: “Many Arabs had left before we arrived.  We went to the Arabs who stayed, and told them peacefully that these lands didn’t belong to them, and that they had to leave the land for the Kurds.  They told us they were waiting for us and would leave.  We didn’t brutalize anybody.”100  Mala Bakhtiar also claimed that PUK leader Jalal Talabani had urged the reversal of Arabization, but had cautioned against violence during his visit to Khanaqin: “[Talabani] said that Arabization was a wrong and brutal operation that had to be eliminated, but that there should be no brutality.”101  The walls of the PUK headquarters in Khanaqin were lined with the pictures of hundreds of PUK fighters and local Kurds who had been killed by Saddam Hussein’s government.  Outside, a large sign read in bad English (spelling corrected): “We call upon the allies to help us in getting back our humanity and realize real freedom through the removal of Arabization, evacuation, and driving away.”102

Case Study: Doshivan Village

In some villages in northern Iraq, the strong balance of power in favor of Kurdish forces—because of their close alliance to U.S. forces—and the absence of legal mechanisms to enforce rights has meant that Arabs with legitimate, pre-Arabization claims to homes were sometimes evicted by force.  Sorting out land rights requires detailed searches of historical property records and balancing conflicting claims, but in some of the villages researched by Human Rights Watch, Arabs appeared to have at least prima facie claims on some homes.

The conflicting claims between Kurds and Arabs over the village of Doshivan, a village of some thirty-five houses with well-irrigated farm lands and orchards located in Shaikhan district, illustrates the need for fair and impartial procedures to sort out land claims.  According to the former Arab residents, they were living in Doshivan since the 1940s, at the invitation of the Arab landlord from Mosul who owned all of the land of the village.  During the fighting between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Peshmerga of Mullah Mustafa Barzani in the 1970s, the Arab residents fled from Doshivan for several years, until the Iraqi government defeated Barzani’s movement in 1974. 

According to the Arabs from Doshivan, when they left the village in the 1970s, an influential member of the Barzani clan, Khalid Shire, came to the village and farmed the land with other Peshmerga families.  When the Iraqi government re-established control over the village, Shire fled with his fighters.  In 2003, the same Shirereturned to the village and refused to allow the Arabs to return.  Hussain ‘Ali Hassan al-Hadidi, who was born in Doshivan in 1953 according to his identity documents, explained:

After this war, the same guy [Khalid Shire] came back to our village.  After we built our big houses and lived there all these years, he came back and took everything.  …We haven’t been able to return because of this KDP guy, he is sitting in the village by force.103

When Human Rights Watch went to visit Doshivan, they found only armed KDP Peshmerga in the village, unlike the mostly civilian Kurdish returnees found in most other villages in the region.  The men were headed by Khalid Shire and his brother Hassan Muhammad Ibrahim, who wore the distinctive red head-dress of the Barzani clan, as did several other men in the group.  Hassan Muhammad Ibrahim admitted that he and his followers had only lived in the village from 1971 to 1974, but claimed that they had come at the invitation of the landlord of the village.  He also claimed that the village had lain in ruins between 1960 and 1971.  Thirty-five Kurdish families would be housed in the village, including twenty families headed by widows of Kurdish men killed by the former Iraqi government. 

Human Rights Watch located Haji Ridha ‘Abbas Ridha, the Turkoman property agent who had represented Doshivan’s landlord for decades, in order to clarify the resident history of the village.  Haji Ridha ‘Abbas Ridha provided clear support for the Arab position:

The [Arab] Hadidis were farmers in Doshivan from a very long time ago, from 1945 or so.  They were farming the land for [the landowner’s] family.  They have the papers to show they were farming the land.

The Kurds came and took control of the land and kicked out the Arabs by force.  It was in the time of Mulla Mustafa Barzani.  They stayed for two or three years in this village, until the government supported the Arab tribe and kicked out Mulla Mustafa’s people and brought back the Arabs.  The Kurds came by force and kicked out the Arabs.  The landowner didn’t invite [the Kurds] onto his land, and they did not pay rent to the landlord. … The Hadidi people used to farm for the landlord and give him twenty-five percent of the harvest.  The landlord was happy and grateful, their relationship was good. … There are villages that belong to the Kurds and where they brought Arabs in 1975 [under Arabization.]  This village is an exception, it was an Arab village from the beginning.104

Providing a final determination of the ownership rights of Doshivan will require a more detailed analysis of the ownership records of the village and the establishment of fair and equitable procedures.  But the current fate of the Arab residents of Doshivan clearly illustrates that in the absence of property dispute mechanisms, the balance of force in favor of the Kurds has meant that even legitimate Arab claims were not being enforced.

 The Situation of the Assyrians

Not all of the victims of Arabization had the force, or the willingness, to expel Arab settlers by force.  The small Assyrian Christian community of northern Iraq was also targeted for Arabization, being expelled from their homes in Kirkuk and losing much of their farmlands in Nineveh governorate.   Many Assyrians ultimately emigrated out of Iraq, forming substantial communities in the United States and Europe.

According to Assyrian officials, most of the Arabs who were brought by the Iraqi government to Arabize their villages remain in their homes, and the Assyrians do not have the force or political power to settle the disputes.  Assyrian community leaders are concerned that the Arabs living in their communities continue to construct houses at an accelerated pace in order to strengthen their claims on the land.  Only a fair and comprehensive property dispute mechanism can resolve the disputes, according to Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) representative William Warda:

The Assyrians need a property commission to determine the rights of our people.  We stopped revenge attacks against the Ba’thists, stating they should be judged by the law.  We don’t think it is logical to deport the Arabs without finding a solution for them—they need to be taken to their origins, and have houses built, but not expelled through aggression.  The best solution is to have a commission to study the Arabization policy of the regime and how to solve this problem.105

U.S. and Coalition Efforts to Prevent Abuses

U.S. troops, particularly their civil affairs (CA) components, took aggressive steps to combat forced evictions of Arabs and other vulnerable groups, although many of the forced evictions had already taken place.  When U.S. troops established themselves in a particular area, they would normally institute a policy of no tolerance for “house jackings” and announce that whomever occupied a certain home at the time of the arrival of U.S. troops could remain in that home until property dispute mechanisms were established.  U.S. troops rarely attempted to reverse expulsions of Arab settlers that had taken place prior to their arrival (with the notable exception of the Domiz case, discussed below), telling evicted Arabs as well as Kurds who had returned but not taken possession of their homes that they would have to wait until legal procedures were in place.

Col. J. Bunche, commander of U.S. troops in the region of Rabi’a, very close to the Syrian border, explained that his orders were that “whoever is on the land can stay for now.  We have explained that to the folks around here.  They understand that an international organization or an arm of the future government of Iraq will come and look at all the evidence and adjudicate [their claims].”106  Col. Arnold, in charge of the neighboring Sinjar area, was enforcing the same rule: “I have had a few Kurds come and ask us what would happen if they took back their houses [from Arab families].  I told them they would be arrested.”107

U.S. forces also played a crucial role in trying to implement and enforce a harvest-sharing agreement between the displaced Arab farmers, who had planted and fertilized the fields, and the returning Kurdish and other non-Arab farmers.  U.S. troops drew up a harvest-sharing agreement signed by the major Kurdish and Arab representatives for the entire north, requiring the harvest to be shared 50-50 between the two parties.  In Makhmour district, U.S. troops required farmers to seek permission from the local agricultural department and U.S. authorities before proceeding with the harvest.  Troops patrolled local farmland to prevent unauthorized harvests, confiscating harvesting equipment until the proper permission was obtained.108

 In reality, the simplistic 50-50 arrangement was almost impossible to implement.  In many cases, Kurdish returnees harvested the crops and refused to share with the displaced Arabs who had planted the lands. On much of the land previously occupied by Arab settlers, third-party Arab laborers were hired by the Arab settlers to work the land, and the 50-50 arrangements imposed by the U.S. frequently failed to account for the rightful share of the laborers.  The complexity of the harvest-sharing formulas, and widespread attempts to violate the agreements, quickly overwhelmed the capacity of the U.S. forces and led to frequent breakdowns of the process.

In addition, the U.S. military intervention into the harvesting disputes unleashed a flood of complaints of all types and additional work for already over-stretched troops: “Once people realized that we resolved the harvest disputes, we got everyone showing up with all kinds of complaints.”109  In Makhmour district, the coalition troops tried to hand over as many of the complaints as possible to the local mayor’s office in order to relieve their work load and increase local capacity.  At the time of the Human Rights Watch visit in mid-June 2003, the mayor and almost the entire Kurdish administration of Makhmour were KDP members, a deficiency recognized by the local U.S. troops: “The mayor's team came in, and they are all KDP, which is OK to begin with.  But sooner or later, we will start pushing that he needs to have non-KDP. …If he wants to stay around as mayor, he needs to do right for all the people of Makhmour, not just the [KDP] party.”110  U.S. coalition troops in Makhmour significantly diminished the power of the Kurdish political parties by demilitarizing their area of control, banning the wearing of uniforms except for U.S.-approved police forces and banning the carrying of weapons outside the home.111

Domiz, Duhok Governorate

On at least one occasion, U.S. coalition troops acted to reverse the expulsion of Arabs by Kurdish forces, expelling the Kurds and returning the expelled Arabs.  The Domiz housing complex, located in Duhok governorate, was originally constructed in 1986 by the Iraqi government to house military officials from a nearby base.  In 1987, the Iraqi government allowed for some public buildings to be sold to private owners, including the homes in the Domiz complex.  According to one of the long-term residents of the complex, Kurds were not allowed to own property in the area: “One of the restrictions [for buyers] was that you had to be Arab, not Kurdish.  If someone Kurdish wanted to buy a house here, they had to change their ethnic identity to Arab.”112  The housing complex ultimately came to house military officials, engineers from the nearby Saddam Dam (now renamed Mosul Dam), mid-level Ba`th Party officials, and private citizens.

During the 2003 war, Iraqi forces based themselves very close to the Domiz housing settlement—a military base was just next to the complex, and the housing was originally built for military personnel from this base.  When the Iraqi troops came under heavy bombardment, they fled into the Domiz settlement, which then also began to be bombed.  During one bombing raid, seven homes in Domiz were destroyed, and a number of civilians were killed.  Nassar Ramadan Khadr al-‘Ubaidi, one of the residents of Domiz, explained that almost all the civilians then fled the area: “The people were afraid of the bombing and everyone ran away from the complex.  We left everything behind.  After a few days we came back, took some household goods and went to Mosul, where we stayed for one month.”113

Only eight elders from Domiz stayed in the complex during the war to attempt to protect the houses from looters.  During the war, a force of KDP Peshmerga arrived in Domiz, unaccompanied by U.S. forces, and told the elders to leave, saying that the area was now a restricted military zone and that the homes in Domiz would be distributed to the families of KDP “martyrs.”114  In Mosul, the displaced homeowners from Domiz held regular protests in front of the U.S. military base, demanding to be allowed to return to their homes.  After meeting with U.S. commanders, a decision was made to allow the families from Domiz to return.

First Lt. Keith Jennings explained that by the time his troops arrived in Domiz, chaos ruled, and looters had been stripping the homes bare: “Looters had stripped everything, even the wires from the walls.”  The U.S. troops emptied the compound, and then allowed only families with title deeds and known to the head of the Domiz village administration to return to the homes: “After that, we froze everything.  No one is allowed to be kicked out of their homes. [Property issues] will be judged by Iraqi courts, not by coalition troops.”115  An uneasy peace ruled in Domiz, with U.S. military checkpoints at the entrance to the village, and most residents of Domiz convinced that the KDP would return to press their claims to the village as soon as U.S. troops left.  Saleh ’Abd al-‘Aziz Hussain al-Luwaizi, a member of the Domiz council, explained: “If the Americans leave, the Kurds will come and kick us out of our houses by force.  There is no confidence in what will happen in the future, when the Americans leave.”116  Many residents of Domiz—more than 170 families by the time of the Human Rights Watch visit in June 2003—had decided to sell their houses cheaply to Kurds or Yazidis, rather than risk being evicted by force in the future.117

[72] Human Rights Watch interview with Badr  ‘Arab al-Budair, Ba’quba, May 10, 2003.

[73] Human Rights Watch interview with ’Abdullah ‘Ali Mudhar al-Hadidi, Shaikhan district, June 5, 2003.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with Haji Muhammad Ya’qub Hussain, Shaikhan, June 10, 2003.

[75] Human Rights Watch interviews with Shaikh ’Abd al-Karim ‘Abd Zitki, June 6, 2003, and September 8, 2003.

[76] Human Rights Watch interview with Shaikh  Mustafa Ahmad al-Warsan, Mosul, June 4, 2003.

[77] Human Rights Watch interview with ‘Aziz Hazza’ Muhammad al-Hadidi, June 5, 2003.

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with Ibrahim Mudhar Saleh al-Hadidi, June 4, 2003.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Salem Saleh ‘Ali al-Hadidi, Shif Shirin, June 6, 2003.

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with ‘Aziz Hazza’ Muhammad al-Hadidi, June 5, 2003.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Ibrahim Mudhar Saleh al-Hadidi, June 4, 2003.

[83] Human Rights Watch interviews with Shaikh ’Abd al-Karim ‘Abd Zitki, June 6, 2003, and September 8, 2003.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Human Rights Watch located four of the Shi`a Arab tribes who had been forcibly displaced from Khanaqin.  Each of the tribes estimated they consisted of some 150 families, and many of the families were of a large size.  Using these statistics, it is fair to assume that at least 600 families, amounting to some 4,000 individuals, were affected by the forced displacement.

[87] Human Rights Watch interview with Shaikh ‘Ali ‘Aziz al-Shuraifi, Khan Bani Sa’ad, May 11, 2003.

[88] Human Rights Watch interview with Murayya Jaber Faris al-Fahd, Khan Bani Sa’ad, May 12, 2003.

[89] Human Rights Watch interview with Ikhlas ‘Awad, al-Shu’la neighborhood of Khanaqin, June 1, 2003.

[90] According to many residents of Khanaqin and the PUK officials in the town, the occupants of government-owned housing were mostly Ba`th members and others who benefited from the regime of Saddam Hussein.  The rents paid for the government-owned housing were very low, sometimes as little as 2,000 Iraqi dinars per month, the equivalent of about U.S.$2.

[91] The poster, in English and Arabic, is signed by Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, and states in relevant part:

The Coalition, and the Coalition alone, retains absolute authority within Iraq.  The Coalition will remain in control until it transfers its authority to a new firmly established and internationally recognized Iraqi Government.  Individuals and organizations may not claim control of property, civil institutions or represent themselves as civil or military authorities without the explicit endorsement of the Coalition. 

[92] Human Rights Watch interview with Wurgi Khayib Sidullah ‘Abdullah and Walid Khalid Rustum Ridha, Khanaqin, June 2, 2003.

[93] Many professionals such as teachers, doctors, and civil servants were forced to be Ba`th Party members to retain their employment and advance in their career.  Although the Ba`th Party played a prominent role in repression in Iraq, Ba`th Party membership alone does not indicate direct involvement of the individual in abuses.

[94] Human Rights Watch interview with Maysun Muhammad Shihab, Khanaqin, June 2, 2003.

[95] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad ‘Ali Mandan, Khanaqin, June 2, 2003.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Human Rights Watch interview with Samer Nizar Jassem al-Tay, Khanaqin, June 2, 2003.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Human Rights Watch interview with Shihab Salim ’Abdullah, Khanaqin, June 2, 2003.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with Mala Bakhtiar, PUK representative for Khanaqin, June 1, 2003.

[101] Ibid.

[102] The original English text read: “We call upon the Allies to help us in getting baek our humanities and realize the real freedom through the removal of arabize evacuation and driving away.”  Human Rights Watch re-translated the accompanying Arabic text for a more correct version.

[103] Human Rights Watch interview with Hussain ‘Ali Hassan al-Hadidi, June 7, 2003.

[104] Human Rights Watch interview with Haji Ridha ‘Abbas Ridha, June 7, 2003.

[105] Human Rights Watch interview with William Warda, Arbil, September 6, 2003.

[106] Human Rights Watch interview with Col. J. Bunche, Rabi’a, June 21, 2003.

[107] Human Rights Watch interview with Col. Arnold, Sinjar, June 20, 2003.

[108] Human Rights Watch interview with Major Reeves, Makhmour, June 10, 2003.

[109] Ibid.

[110] Ibid.

[111] Ibid.

[112] Human Rights Watch interview with Saleh ’Abd al-‘Aziz Hussain al-Luwaizi, Domiz, June 9, 2003.

[113] Human Rights Watch  interview with Nassar Ramadan Khadr al-‘Ubaidi, Domiz, June 9, 2003.

[114] Human Rights Watch interview with Saleh ’Abd al-‘Aziz Hussain al-Luwaizi, Domiz, June 9, 2003.

[115] Human Rights Watch interview with First Lt. Keith Jennings, Domiz, June 9, 2003.

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with Saleh ’Abd al-‘Aziz Hussain al-Luwaizi, Domiz, June 9, 2003

[117] Human Rights Watch interview with Sa’id ’Abd al-Khaliq Mustafa al-Surin, Domiz, June 9, 2003.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>August 2004