© Wikimedia

© Wikimedia

Kirkuk is a central component of the Kurdish story in Iraq. Historically, it is one of the oldest sites of continuous occupation in Iraq, dating back over 5,000 years.[1]

According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, the Kurds predate other ethnic groups in Kirkuk, the second oldest ethnic group being the Turkomans. For decades, the various ethnic communities were known to peacefully coexist in this city. In 1957, the last official census reported a total of 178,000 Kurds, 48,000 Turks, and 43,000 Arabs living in Kirkuk.[2]

Oil in Kirkuk

Kirkuk is known for its rich oil reserves, producing almost half of Iraq’s daily exports, and has been one of the most highly disputed areas between the Kurdish people and the Iraqi government in Baghdad.

Oil has been difficult to transport through the war-torn region, but Iraqi Kurdistan is managing to export nearly 500,000 barrels of oil per day. Most of this oil is being sold to Turkey.

Modern History of Kirkuk

When the Ba’athists took power in the late 50’s, the new government began systematically destroying Kurdish villages and relocating Arabs to Kirkuk, in an attempt to bolster the Arab claim to the city’s vast oil fields.[3] One of the many consequences of this forced relocation is that the Kurds lost their majority population in this area.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, however, the Kurds began to return to Iraq, and Kirkuk in particular.[4] Today, the Kurdish presence in the city is greater than ever, as the Kurdish Peshmerga defend the city from the self-styled Islamic State or “ISIS.”

As thousands of Iraqi soldiers fled the city in June 2012, the Peshmerga stepped up its positions from surrounding towns to protect and defend the Kirkuk oil fields.[5] They remain there to this day.

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