Ethnic tension rises in oil-rich Kirkuk

( dpa ) - An Arab political bloc threatened Monday to pull out of the local council of the oil-rich, ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq unless anti-Arab measures taken by the Kurdish majority are stopped.

Under a power-sharing agreement with the Kurdish Takhi List, the Iraqi Republican Grouping has six of 41 seats in the local governing council of Kirkuk as well as the post of the deputy council chief.

"We call for the implementation of terms of the agreement within the set timeframe, including the release of all detainees in Kurdish prisons, an end to raids and arrests in Arab areas and giving Arabs their right to a joint administration (of the city)," Ahmed Hamid Ubaydi, the grouping's leader said.

Ubaydi, who is also the leader of the Arab Iraqi Kirkuk Front, is calling for a suspension of the controversial article 140 of the Iraqi constitution.

Kirkuk is one of the most sensitive political and potentially explosive issues in Iraq. The city's Kurdish majority see it as their capital and want to be attached to Iraq's Kurdish Autonomous Region while the city's Arabs and Turkmen oppose this.

Under article 140, Arabs, who were settled in the city under the former regime, are encouraged to return to their original homes elsewhere in Iraq.

A referendum on joining the other three provinces of Iraq's Kurdish region was to be held in 2007 but was postponed against rising tension and violence in the city.

The Arab grouping was examining all options, including withdrawal from the political process, protests and civil disobedience, Ubaydi said.

He urged the city's Kurdish political parties to include Turkmen's powers in the power-sharing agreement in a move, which Arabs hope would promote decentralization rather than annexing the city to the Kurdish region.

Last year, Turkmen's parties had pulled out of the city council where they had nine seats.

Ubaydi renewed his opposition to article 140, which provides for Kirkuk's Arabs to be given inducements to move out of up to 15,000 dollars each as well as a plot of land in their place of origin.

The measure, which is voluntary, has been approved by the Iraqi government.

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