Refugees in their own country

Maggy Zanger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Kirkuk has been a majority-Kurdish city for hundreds of years. It lies along an important trade and administrative route linking what is now central Iraq with Turkey, Syria and Iran. Commerce and governance brought Arabs and Turks to the area, but even the Ba'th admitted in 1989 that their Arabization efforts to date "did not raise the percentage [of Arabs and Turkomans in Kirkuk] to 60 percent." Huge oil fields stretching from south of Kirkuk up to Erbil were discovered in the early part of the twentieth century. They offered the Kurds enormous economic promise but brought political catastrophe. The Kurds claim that the Kirkuk area is Kurdish and therefore must be part of any Kurdish autonomous area. They further claim they should receive a percentage of oil revenues from the area. But since Kirkuk oil accounted for 70 percent of Iraq's total oil output by the 1970s, successive post-monarchy regimes have not been amenable to Kurdish views that Kirkuk should be a part of their autonomous region. Various autonomy negotiations between the Kurds and Iraqi regimes, from the 1960s to 1991, have fallen on the sword of Kirkuk. The past four decades have been an endless cycle of government oppression, Kurdish rebellion, war, negotiations and break-down of negotiations. Kirkuk oil is the primary but not the only reason for the cyclic warfare. The various Iraqi governments from 1958 onward were steeped in the pan-Arabism of the day, which by definition rejected Kurdish claims of self-determination in an Arab state. The Ba'th Party saw Kurdish nationalists as a possible Trojan horse because of their early collaboration with Iran, the United States and even Israel. There is some speculation that Saddam Hussein and other Ba'thists have racist attitudes towards the Kurds who are more closely related, ethnically, to Persians than to Arabs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-43
Number of pages4
JournalMiddle East Report
Issue number222
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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