A decree regarding leases for land in Kirkuk made by the Agriculture Ministry of Iraq has been cancelled. Kurdish Ministers of Parliament have claimed that the decree will pave the way for mass land confiscation and fear it would enable the displacement of Kurdish citizens from the region as the territory is still highly disputed. There is also a general fear of the return of Baathist era policies due to similar events being associated with the decree.

In the past, the Baathist-led Iraqi regime maintained a policy that favored pro-Baathist Arab’s when permitting agricultural leases over Kurdish citizens. This was done in an attempt to change the ethnic demographic of Kirkuk by bringing in Sunni Arabs and pushing out Kurds. When Saddam and his regime fell from power, the new Iraqi constitution was brought into effect. Article 140 of the constitution resolved the disputed territory and returned land to the rightful previous Turkmen and Kurdish land holder. This took place within an official order by Iraq’s central government in February 2012. All agricultural leases granted by the Baathist regime were revoked and land rights were restored.

After the takeover of Kirkuk by Iraq/Iran supported PMF and PMU militias in October of last year, when Peshmerga were forced to retreat from the region, the lands were returned to federal control. This has brought a great deal of concern that non-Iraqi Arab citizens would be pushed out once again. In a preventative move, Kurdish Minister of Parliament Shakawan Abdulla spoke out against the Agricultural Ministry; demanding the suspend all pursuits in relation to the disputed territories until concerns could be legally resolved to the constitutional standards. The Iraq government was quick to issue a halt on all administrative procedures in relation to Kirkuk agricultural lands in response.

Minister Shakawan Abdulla told local media, after the turn of events took place, that all legal proceedings involving Kirkuk’s disputed ground would stop and no one had the right to take them from their current owners. A letter from general director Mohammed Jasim of the Iraqi Agriculture Ministry confirmed the decree and elaborated on its details and was sent to the various political parties based in Kirkuk shortly thereafter. Abdullah informed local media he had took action to prevent land from, “being confiscated by Baathist Arabs.”

Soon after the letter was sent out, Kirkuk’s head for the Department of Agriculture went to Baghdad to protest the block. A letter sent to Kirkuk’s Department of Agriculture on March 1st this year cancelled all standing decrees regarding agriculture. MP Shakawan Abdull has responded by saying, “If the government does not resolve this issue in a legal way, social problems will start in the region. Those Arabs who had been relocated by the Baathist regime during the 1980s up to before 2003, giving them each [10 acres] of land owned by Kurds and Turkmen, and fled after 2003, have now been trying to return to Kirkuk and once again confiscate land.” He stated that the trouble started when, “a number of Baathist sympathizers in Baghdad asked for their old leases to be renewed. I am calling on them to give up on such acts.”

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