Both Turkmen and Kurds say Kirkuk, Iraq’s northern oil hub, should rightfully be theirs. Under ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein both communities were forcibly replaced by Arabs in the region.

But in recent months, many Kurds and Turkmen have started to return. Both communities are trying to shore up their influence in Iraq and tensions are mounting.

Turkmen leaders said the Kirkuk branch of the Iraqi Turkmen Front was attacked on Sunday by scores of Kurds, who vandalised computers and furniture.

The culprits rampaged through the building, breaking glass and scattering paper.

Police extended a nightly curfew, ordering people to stay at home from 6:00pm to 5:00am, as minor violence broke out across the city.

Riots 

Witnesses said Kurds ripped apart Turkmen and Iraqi flags and vandalised shops owned by Turkmen. Officials said two people were injured.

Local leaders fear that if unchecked, the situation could get out of control.

Turkmen insist they have
historical claim over Kirkuk

“We demand the United Nations and the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference send peacekeeping forces to maintain security in Kirkuk to prevent events which may lead to civil war,” Turkmen leader in Kirkuk, Saad al-Din Arkij, said on Monday.

A Kurdish official with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said no political parties were involved in the violence.

“We condemn any acts that seek to undermine the security situation in Kirkuk,” said Arif Qurbani.

He accused Turkmen of provoking the crowds by firing in the air. But Turkmen said they were celebrating the return of a political delegation from Baghdad.

An interim constitution for Iraq, agreed by the US-appointed Governing Council on Monday, included a controversial reference to the federal structure of Iraq. Kurds, who have ruled an autonomous region of northern Iraq, are demanding a federal structure.

A decision was postponed on the highly divisive question of whether Kurds should be able to expand their autonomous zone to include Kirkuk and other northern areas.