- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

QADASIA, Iraq Years after they were forcibly kicked out of oil-rich areas of northern Iraq, dispossessed Kurds are returning to evict Arabs and seize their homes.
Just a few days ago, armed Kurdish men ordered Sadi Qader Muhammad to leave her modest four-room home in this suburb of Kirkuk, claiming that the land had been taken from Kurds by Saddam Hussein.
"For years, we've worked hard from morning until night, and getting kicked out of our home is the fruit of our labor," said Mrs. Muhammad, a nurse and mother of six.
The new Kurdish occupants grabbed the house in the days of confusion after the April 10 collapse of Saddam's authority in northern Iraq.
"It was our land," said Khader Rashid Rahim, a trader who plans to move his wife and seven children here. "Years ago, three of my brothers were killed by Saddam's government. They took all of our property and forcibly moved us away."
Of all the legacies of Saddam's years of rule, none might be so tricky to unravel as forcible deportations of ethnic minorities from oil-rich areas.
Saddam evicted thousands of Kurds and Turks living in Kirkuk and Mosul from their properties and handed them over to Arabs from other parts of Iraq, a policy known as "Arabization."
The policy has divided other ethnic communities. Atop the dilapidated Kirkuk Castle yesterday, Turkoman and Kurdish residents hurled jostling claims for this once-gracious neighborhood among the most ancient spots in the Middle East.
"The Iraqi army destroyed all the houses and threw us out," said Nushat Muhamad, a 32-year-old Turkoman schoolteacher. "This was declared a military zone and we weren't allowed to come to visit the mosques or our old homes. Now we're coming back and declaring it a Turkoman neighborhood."
Many displaced Kurds wound up in refugee camps, learned how to use Kalashnikov rifles and committed themselves to avenging their families.
Kurdish leaders have long sought to assure the United States and Arab countries that the process of return would be a lawful one.
"The return of displaced people has to be done through an orderly process, hopefully, an international process, that will take into consideration the rights of all the communities of Kirkuk," said Barham Salih, prime minister of the autonomous Kurdish enclave.
Law and order were little in evidence early Wednesday afternoon in Qadasia. The two families still claimed ownership of the same house.
Mrs. Muhammad wept as her husband, Qassem Muhammad Bamed, a grammar-school teacher, removed their clothes from the house. Mr. Rahim, the Kurdish trader, stood watching as he held his Kalashnikov.
Musawi speaking at a noisy meeting of Sunni, Shi'ite and Christian Arab residents of Qadasia voiced a litany of complaints about acts of Kurdish reprisals against the Arab neighborhood and proclaimed a march through the streets of Kirkuk after Friday prayers.
The Arabs say Kurds claiming to belong to the two main factions governing the autonomous Kurdish section of northern Iraq had looted their homes, assaulted their sons, taken their weapons and fired random gunshots at their houses.
Armed Kurds have seized at least three houses in the neighborhood so far, spray-painting "girow," Kurdish for "taken," on homes they've occupied.
"If this humiliation against us continues, we are going to defend our properties and our homes ourselves," said Musawi, who declined to give his full name.
Kirkuk's Arabs say the takeover of the city's municipal government and the police department by the Sulaymaniyah-based Kurdish government has left them vulnerable and with little recourse. Many of the Kurdish police patrolling the city streets are displaced Kurds or their relatives.
Asked to show proof that he owned the property, Mr. Rahim couldn't come up with any. He blamed Saddam. "They destroyed all of our papers," he said. "It's just our land."

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