Kurdish leader ups the ante over disputed Iraqi city

Wext: Monday, 13.September. @ 00:00:00 CEST



ARBIL, Iraq, Sept 9 (AFP) -
11h22 - Iraq's Kurds are ready to fight to preserve the identity of the ethnically-divided and oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, one of their historical leaders told AFP Thursday.

"Kirkuk is the heart of Kurdistan and we ready to wage a war in order to preserve its identity and to sacrifice ourselves for what Iraqi Kurds have already achieved," said Massud Barzani.

He is the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party -- one of the two main Kurdish factions opposed to the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein -- and son of the Kurdish nationalist leader Mustafa Barzani.

Kirkuk is an ethnic tinderbox of Sunni and Shiite Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds who have all been vying for influence over the oil-rich city since the US-led invasion in March 2003 that toppled Saddam.

A recent announcement by Iraqi Planning Minister Mehdi al-Hafez that a nationwide census was planned for October this year has fueled tensions in the city, which the Kurds want to bring into their sphere of influence.

They claim there was a majority of Kurds in Kirkuk in the 1950s and are trying to reclaim land later lost during Saddam's "arabisation" campaign.

Neighbouring Turkey is concerned that Kurdish control over Kirkuk would bolster separatist ambitions that could spread over the border to Turkish Kurds.

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