Â Ethnic tensions and a dispute over control of oil fuel the violence in Kirkuk
A conference is being held in Iraq examining how NI peace principles might be applied to the city of Kirkuk.Kirkuk is the centre of the northern Iraqi oil fields and is an ethnically mixed city populated by Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen and Arabs.Â
A delegation including Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey, the Independent Monitoring Commission’s Lord Alderdice and consultant Quintin Oliver is attending.
They will be joined in Baghdad by South African and Iraqi counterparts.
The trip is a follow up to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness’s visit in July last year which finalised the Helsinki principles, a code of conduct for future negotiations which drew on George Mitchell’s principles on non-violence.
In an interview with the BBC, Quintin Oliver said the Iraqis in Kirkuk were very interested in the power sharing arrangements at Stormont, the reforms in policing and the north-south structures developed under the Good Friday Agreement.
Both the northern Kurdish authorities and the southern Iraqi authorities have laid claim to the oil resources around Kirkuk.
Much of the political tension between the Kurds and Arabs in Kirkuk stems from an Iraqi-government programme of the 1970s – under Saddam Hussein – that moved thousands of Arab families to the province and expelled Kurdish and other ethnic groupings from their homes.
Known as the “Arabisation of Kirkuk”, the aim was to ensure Arab control of the oil fields that were first discovered in the 1920s and are connected by pipelines to Mediterranean ports.
It is this issue, together with historical grievances, that is still being played out today.
Iraqi Kurds believe they should control the city because of the demographic distortion caused by Saddam’s Arabisation, and therefore retain much say over the oil.
But the ethnic Arabs, together with the Turkmen community, maintain the oil should be a national and not a regional resource. Therefore, they say, Kirkuk should remain outside the Kurdish semi-autonomous area and under control of the central governme