RFE/RL: What is the situation now in Kirkuk? How are the people perceiving the situation? Are they supporting the push for a referendum, or is there a different feeling on the ground?
Akram Qadir Muhammad: I think that the issue of Kirkuk has been a thorny issue for a long time, since the days of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Interpretations vary. Some say [Kirkuk is important because] there is much oil. That is true, the first oil well was drilled in 1927 in Baba Gurgur near Kirkuk. I know it well because I am a native of Kirkuk, born there in 1945 in the Imam Qasim neighborhood, and also my ancestors lived in Kirkuk.
To give you an idea what it was like, Kirkuk was a multiethnic city -- there was a large proportion of the Kurds, and then came the [ethnic-Turkish] Turkomans as second. Now, after the forced resettlements – and after the Arabs were brought from southern Iraq, central Iraq, and Baghdad -- the proportion of the Arabs increased with some 30 percent.
But I can remember well that in 1952, when I was seven, the city was small. There was just a small group of 20 Arab families breeding buffaloes, and there were no more of them in the center of Kirkuk Governorate. But in Hawijah district, there were Arab tribes such as Al-Jubur and Al-Ubayd, and these belonged to the indigenous population although they came there in 1936 or shortly before.
The situation of Kirkuk is not good now. There are explosions and organized terror that affect the people of Kirkuk. The administration of the city has improved a little bit recently. But despite all that has been spent, the city is not clean, its streets are destroyed, and its infrastructure is old.
I think that if an economist or anybody from Europe comes to Kirkuk -- and he will know that the city has produced oil since 1927 -- he will be appalled that the city is not clean. It is very neglected, and all the tragedy can be found in this city, especially in its Kurdish areas. This is in an unnatural measure [when compared] with other areas, even with the areas of the Turkomans. But in general, all the ethnic groups inside the city have been affected.
I remember the times of King Faysal. At that time, and after that in 1958, there was no sectarian or communitarian problem in Kirkuk. [There were] mixed marriages -- my mother is Turkoman and my father is a Kurd who married a Turkoman. That was natural that Kurds would marry Turkomans, Turkomans would marry Kurds, Kurds would even marry Arabs and Arabs would marry others. These things were typical in Kirkuk.
But after the decline, after the fall of the [Hussein] government -- or shortly before that -- nothing of these things and traditions remained in Kirkuk. Kirkuk turned into a city where terrorists walk about.
There is something we must know well: that those Arabs brought to Kirkuk at the times of Saddam's Ba'athists from different parts of southern Iraq were given 10,000 dinars [to relocate to Kirkuk]. Houses were even built for them. They were given other privileges and employed in crucial institutions, such as in the IPC [the Iraqi Petroleum Company].
Up to this day, the proportion of local people -- from among the Kurds -- in the IPC does not reach 4 percent. Only a low percentage of the Kurds could be found in oil institutions and other important institutions. Until now, there is a high percentage of Arabs.
Even Chaldeans and Assyrians, many of whom lived with us in Kirkuk, have left and emigrated to Europe and, mainly, to the United States. They have a large diaspora in America now. They have left Kirkuk and only small numbers of the [Chaldeans and] Assyrians have remained.
KURDISH AWAKENING: The ethnic Kurdish region in the northern part of Iraq has struggled in recent years to reestablish its cultural and political identity after decades of oppression under the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In December, RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel traveled to this area and filed several reports: