Kirkuk: A Mesopotamian Microcosm
The ancient city of Kirkuk has a population of approximately one million and is located 250 km north of Baghdad, between the Tigris River and the Zagros Mountains. Due to its unique multiethnic history, Kirkuk enjoys a special political status enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution and is widely regarded as a test case for peaceful coexistence in post-war Iraq.
Throughout the past 4500 years, numerous empires and dynasties ruled the city of Kirkuk. These include the Hurrians of northern Mesopotamia, the ancient Assyrians, the Greek Seleucids, several Persian dynasties, as well as the Ottoman Empire. Today, Kirkuk is inhabited by Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs and Assyrians. While the majority are Sunni and Shia Muslims, the city is also home to Yazidis as well as Chaldean Catholics and Syrian-Orthodox Christians.
During the time of the Ba'ath regime (1968 – 2003), the city of Kirkuk and the surrounding rural areas experienced numerous atrocities. Up to 100,000 Kurdish civilians died in the course of the genocidal Anfal Campaign (1987-1989), which involved large-scale deportation, concentration camps, mass executions, chemical warfare and the destruction of more than 2000 villages.
The population of Kirkuk continued to suffer from systematic human rights violations until Kurdish forces liberated the city in 2003. Since then, the instable security situation has caused thousands to die in terror attacks.
Situated in the northern part of Iraq, the Kurdistan Region is a constitutional autonomous area under full Kurdish control since 1991. The region is a parliamentary democracy and had 5.2 million inhabitants before the refugee crisis of 2014.
Within the past twelve years the regional authorities were able to establish relative peace and safety within the three provinces of Sulaymaniyah, Erbil and Dohuk. Thus, the situation in the Kurdistan Region is marked by relatively high standards of living in comparison with central and southern Iraq.
Since summer 2014, the Kurdish provinces of Iraq have hosted about one million displaced persons in addition to more than 240,000 Syrian refugees. Besides, Kurdish military forces are fighting ISIS terrorists at a 2000 km long border. This poses a huge economic and political challenge for the only peaceful and democratic haven in an area shaken by war, terror and massive sectarian violence.
Sulaymaniyah and Erbil
Although the cities of Sulaymaniyah and Erbil are part of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, which was protected by a no-fly zone after the first Gulf War, they have enjoyed full freedom and peace only since 2003.
The current population of Sulaymaniyah and Erbil are estimated at one million each, including Kurds and a significant number of Arab refugees who arrived after 2003. Sulaymaniyah is described as the most modern city in the whole of Iraq where individual freedom is concerned. Nonetheless, the situation of women remains an important subject of concern. Especially Erbil has become a fast growing city due to important international investments but is comparatively more traditional and conservative than Sulaymaniyah.
Located between the cities of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah, Chamchamal used to be a small town with a population of less than 20,000. Since the so-called Anfal Campaign (1986-1989) the town's population has grown to over 50,000 citizens. Due to the destruction of all surrounding villages, families were forced to flee to Chamchamal or were deported to a concentration camp in Tekye, located about 10 km from Chamchamal.
Until today, the region suffers from a high unemployment rate and high numbers of homicides. Chamchamal remains one of the poorest and most war-stricken areas of Northern Iraq, with many unemployed farmers neither being able to integrate, nor having the means to rebuild their homes in their old villages.
Halabja is located about 90 km southeast of Sulaymaniyah; the population of the whole area is estimated at 250,000. Halabja became tragically known for the poison gas attacks of March in 1988 that killed 5000 civilians at once and left thousands with life-long impairments.
The Iraqi Army partly destroyed the city in the aftermath of the chemical attacks of 1988; many victims were deported. Until today the destruction of the infrastructure and the familial systems determines the region as one of the poorest in North Iraq with a high rate of unemployment, social conflicts and domestic violence.
Duhok, located near the Turkish border, had about 250,000 inhabitants before the refugee crisis of 2014. The area has been a staging ground for numerous conflicts between the Ba'ath regime and the Kurdish resistance. As in all parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, the inhabitants of this region have been suffering from persecution, punitive military operations and the Anfal campaign. Until 1991, a huge number of villages and infrastructure got destroyed and thousands disappeared, among them 10,000 men of the Barzani tribe.
After 2003, Duhok and the nearby Nineveh Plains became home to a huge number of internally displaced persons who have fled from ongoing sectarian violence and recent human rights violations in other parts of Iraq. In the course of the Syrian refugee crisis, about 100,000 Syrians sought refuge in the Duhok Governorate, half of which in Domiz camp. Since the advance of the ISIS terrorists in summer 2014, the Duhok province has hosted about 600,000 displaced persons, mainly from Mosul and Sinjar.