April 22, 2009 / 11:17 AM / 11 years ago

FACTBOX: Iraq's disputed city of Kirkuk

(Reuters) - The United Nations has handed Iraq a report on disputed territories that it hopes will help ease Kurdish-Arab tensions over the disputed city of Kirkuk.

The following are some facts about the northern city of Kirkuk and the surrounding province:

THE CITY

Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, is the capital of Tamim province, which is also know as Kirkuk province. Kirkuk sits atop one of Iraq’s key oil producing fields. The Kirkuk fields contain about 13 percent of Iraq’s proven reserves, which are the world’s third largest. U.S. officials believe the province could contain 4 percent of the world’s oil reserves. The city is one of Iraq’s biggest. It lies just outside the largely autonomous Kurdistan region, which is predominantly Kurdish.

KIRKUK’S PEOPLE

Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen make up Kirkuk’s three main ethnic groups. The city is also home to Chaldean Catholic Christians and other minorities. Thousands of Arab families moved to Kirkuk in the 1970s and 1980s under former President Saddam Hussein’s “Arabisation” policy, which involved the expulsion of thousands of Kurds and Turkmen. The current size of each ethnic group in Kirkuk is disputed, making population statistics unreliable. Arabs and Turkmen say hundreds of thousands of Kurds have settled in the city since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

THE HEART OF THE DISPUTE

Kurds consider Kirkuk their ancient capital and want it to become part of Kurdistan. Arabs and Turkmen want the city to remain under central government authority. Arabs and Turkmen believe Kirkuk has been intentionally stacked with Kurds to tip the demographic balance in their favor in any ballot. Kurdish moves to integrate Kirkuk with Kurdistan have caused concerns in neighboring Turkey, which fears Iraq’s Kurds will turn Kirkuk into the capital of a new state, possibly fuelling separatism among its own sizable Kurdish population.

ELECTIONS

Kirkuk was excluded from provincial elections in January 2009 because no one could agree on how to hold the vote there.

THE UNITED NATIONS

The U.N. special representative to Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, calls Kirkuk the “mother of all issues” in the country and says a peaceful solution to the dispute is vital to Iraq’s stability. The new U.N. report released to the Iraqi government, which contains four options for the region, is supposed to provide an objective basis for a discussion of the future of Kirkuk. The United Nations does not endorse any single option.

WHAT ABOUT A REFERENDUM?

A referendum mandated by the constitution was to have been held by the end of 2007 to decide Kirkuk’s status but was delayed, partly to give the United Nations time to come up with its proposals. There is no referendum currently planned.

Editing by Dominic Evans

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