Ethnic Purges Turn Iraqi Frontier City Into ‘Two Towns’

Violence Stalled in Tuz Khurmatu, But Tensions Remain High

by Jason Ditz, May 31, 2016

A frontier town between the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi central government’s territory, Tuz Khurmatu saw a flurry of fighting in late April between the Kurdish Peshmerga and Turkmen Shi’ite militias.

The fighting has calmed since then, but the ethnic and religious strife remains, with the city of around 100,000 people split roughly down the middle between Sunni Kurds and Shi’ite Turkmen. Increasingly, it is a geographically split city as well, with the mayor saying that the Kurds are all moving into one part of the city, and the Turkmens into the other.

Tuz Khurmatu was briefly captured by ISIS early in the war, and quickly recovered, with both the Peshmerga and the Shi’ite militias fighting them off. The expansion of Kurdish territory in the north, however, put the city into an awkward frontier.

Kurdish secessionist sentiments have seen a lot of the new territory taken during the ISIS war, further north around Kirkuk, as Kurdish officials looked to reverse decades of relocation of Kurds out of the area in favor of Arabs with a similar ethnic purge.

Exactly where this new KRG border is drawn is less and less clear, and frontier towns have become increasingly tense. With the central government mostly bowing out of the area, they’ve left militias, local security forces, and the Peshmerga to police the areas, and when those groups get into disputes, things can quickly get heated.

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