Posted by D from 22.214.171.124.cfl.rr.com (126.96.36.199) on Thursday, May 29, 2003 at 7:45PM :
A new council in the key northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk elected a Kurdish mayor on Wednesday in a move which left local Arab and Turkmen leaders concerned about Kurdish political domination.
U.S. forces hailed the vote as a step towards building democracy in Iraq after the ousting of Saddam Hussein and many hope it will bring an end to the ethnic tensions which have plagued the city since Iraqi forces fled seven weeks ago.
Abdurahman Mustafa, elected mayor by 20 votes to 10, made an appeal for unity among the city's diverse mix of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens and Assyrians.
"We have a shared history and together we can overcome the problems caused by troublemakers who don't represent any ethnic group," Mustafa, a Baghdad-educated lawyer, told Reuters after winning the vote at city hall.
More than 10 people were killed in clashes between Kurds and Arabs earlier this month in a resurgence of the ethnic violence which first surfaced amid a power vacuum when Kurdish "peshmerga" fighters and U.S. special forces entered the city.
Kirkuk's 30-member council is made up of five blocs of six members each. Four of the blocs are formed along ethnic lines -- Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and Turkmen -- and the fifth is made up of "independents".
Turkmens complained however that Kurds hold five of the seats in the independent bloc. They are also frustrated that their only representative at the council's helm is an assistant mayor whom they consider pro-Kurdish.
"We reject the structure of the council and we will continue our struggle for equal representation of all ethnic groups," said Mustafa Kemal Yaycili, the Turkmen candidate for the post of mayor and local head of the Iraqi Turkmen Front.
The appointment of an Arab, Ismail Ahmed Rajab al-Hadidi, as deputy mayor went some way towards addressing Arab concerns. But the Arabs, upset by the detention of seven of their delegates over alleged links to Saddam's Baath Party ahead of the vote, feel they are inadequately represented.
"The Kurds now have an effective majority in the council and we want the Americans to reconsider this so that all groups enjoy equality," Sheikh Ghassan Muzher al-Asi told Reuters after the election.
CALL FOR COOPERATION
Many Kurdish nationalists view Kirkuk as the heartland of their historic territory. Tensions still simmer over ethnic expulsions carried out under Saddam's "Arabisation" policy, which led to thousands of mainly Kurds and Turkmens being expelled from Kirkuk and replaced by Arabs.
A Kurdish assistant mayor has been appointed to oversee "resettlement and compensation" which is likely to be the thorniest issue addressed by the council.
The Arab and Turkmen objections fuelled noisy protests at Saturday's election of the council but there was a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday as the U.S. army general presiding over the vote called for the groups to cooperate.
"For the first time in over 30 years you have the freedom to decide the future of Kirkuk," said Major General Raymond Odierno, commander of forces in northeast Iraq.
"Establishing a democratic society and economy requires much hard work and the true desire of all parties to work towards a common goal."
Earlier this month U.S. administrators established a governing council in northern Iraq's Mosul, the country's third largest city. But at Basra in the south, Iraq's second largest city, British troops have disbanded a city council led by a man many regarded as having too close links to Saddam's regime.
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