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Iraq's simmering ethnic war over Kirkuk

Tensions are rising between Kurdish, Arab, and Turkmen factions over power and populations in the province, the heart of northern Iraq's oil industry.

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Crowds: Kurdish men stood outside a government office in Krukuk, where residents lined up for expected resettlement funds.

Sam Dagher

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Graffiti inside this city's ancient hilltop citadel quickly spells out the tension between Kirkuk's three main ethnic groups – Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen.

On one wall, an eagle descends on a two-headed serpent meant to symbolize enemies of the Kurdish nation. Next to it, the word "Arab" is erased and replaced with an etched "Kurdish" in a slogan that once read: "Kirkuk is an Arab city." Another slogan reads: "Kirkuk is Turkmen."

Kirkuk has been the object of a bitter struggle over the past five years among Iraq's competing ethnic and sectarian groups. And now Arab, Kurd, and Turkmen factions seem to be digging in, anticipating that tensions may erupt in an area that is the center of northern Iraq's oil industry ahead of a promised referendum on the fate of Kirkuk Province, officially still called Tamim, its previous Baath Party-era name.

Article 140 of Iraq's Constitution was supposed to resolve the issue by the end of 2007 but the deadline for a vote has been extended to the end of June in the hopes that the United Nations may be able to broker a solution by then.

But with or without a referendum, Kurds maintain that almost the entirety of Kirkuk Province, of which the city of Kirkuk is the capital, is a natural part of their semiautonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq. Arabs and Turkmen, on the other hand, say Article 140 is now "null and void" and that other solutions must be devised.

In general, Turkmen support a semi-independent Kirkuk Province while Arabs back the idea of the central government remaining in control.

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