By Ali Mukarrem Garip
KIRKUK (AA) – One year since a controversial referendum on Kurdish regional independence, Turkmen and Arab residents in Iraq’s northern province of Kirkuk cite major progress in various fields since Iraqi government forces seized control of the oil-rich area.
“The situation is Kirkuk is getting better day by day,” Ali Mehdi, a spokesman for the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), told Anadolu Agency.
In September 2017, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) held a controversial referendum on secession of northern Iraq’s Kurdish region from the country.
The Sept. 25 vote was strongly opposed by most regional and international actors — including the U.S., Turkey, and Iran — who warned the initiative would further destabilize the region.
Following the vote, Iraqi government forces moved into several parts of the country “disputed” between Baghdad and the Erbil-based KRG, including the oil-rich Kirkuk province.
“We are now freed from the one-sided dominance of the Kurdish political parties," Omer Hussein, a local resident in Kirkuk, said.
Kirkuk had been under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces for more than three years, before Baghdad seized control of the area last year.
Mehdi cited that kidnapping for ransom and murders have almost vanished in Kirkuk since government forces seized the oil-rich province.
“All parties should understand that Kirkuk will not be governed by one side,” he said.
He said local residents were relieved since unofficial forces affiliated to KRG and Kurdish political parties as Peshmerga and Asayish have gone.
"With the presence of government forces in the area, people’s trust into the state was ensured again,” he said. “Now, residents want to see stability, security and development.”
“A long-term solution is the greatest expectation of Turkmens. We want the International Kirkuk Airport to start flights and to have higher living standards.”
The ITF spokesman went on to call for the appointment of a Turkmen governor for the oil-rich province.
“Turkmens aspire to justice and are looking most forward to its implementation," he said.
– ‘Feeling like Iraqis’
Hatam at-Tai, a member of the Kirkuk Arab Assembly, said Arabs in the city feel like "being in their reclaimed country" since the intervention of government forces in the province.
"Looking forward to enjoying stability, the Arabs want to see free local elections, an improvement in the agricultural sector, reconstruction in the regions damaged by Daesh terrorist group and development in the building sector," he said.
ITF member Mardin Gokkaya said Kirkuk residents have been relieved for the past year.
"With government forces controlling the province, we began to feel like Iraqis," he said.
Gokkaya said the change was most visible in the security field, citing that reports about murders have almost disappeared since last year.
He called for activating the role of the Kirkuk Provincial Assembly “to contribute to the development of the province as soon as possible”.
*Ali Murat Alhas contributed to this report from Ankara