"The committee will allot them a lot of land and pay 25,000 US dollars [per household] as compensation", he said. The decision will now be sent to the Iraqi cabinet for approval.

The decision will only apply to Arabs who arrived in Kirkuk during the "Arabisation" campaign of Saddam Hussein's government; a move that seems certain to anger the Arab settlers.

"Kirkuk is Iraqi land and it's for all Iraqis, I will never leave," Khalaf al -Housouni, an Arab who moved to Kirkuk in 1990, told Al Jazeera.
 
During the rule of Saddam Hussein thousands of Arabs were moved to the city and thousands of Kurds were made to leave.

Mohammed Khalil, a member of the Arab Republican Union which represents Arabs living in Kirkuk, told Germany's Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency: "We refuse these new decisions and consider them a form of forced migration."
 
Forcible expulsion
Five suicide bombers staged attacks in
Kirkuk at the weekend [AFP]

Human Rights Watch says that more than 120,000 Kurds, Turkomans and Assyrians were forcibly expelled from northern Iraq from 1991 and replaced by Arab families from mainly Shia regions of Iraq "to drastically alter the ethnic demographics of Kirkuk".
 
In an earlier meeting, the  Iraqi committee decided that the people who were driven from Kirkuk would be allowed to return. They will be given land and also paid $7,000 compensation.

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq at least 300,000 Kurds have returned to the city that many of them believe should be part of autonomous Kurdistan.

"Kirkuk is part of the Kurdistan map. We have unfairly lost it, it was taken away by force," Ali Namir Saleh, a member of the Kirkuk governing council, said.
 
Referendum by end of 2007

A referendum to decide whether the city will remain Iraqi or become part of Kurdistan is due to be held by the end of year.
Thousands of Kurdish troops are already based in Kirkuk [REUTERS]

Sheikh Abdul-Rahman Minshad al-Asi, head of the Arab Gathering party and a chief from the Obaid tribe, said that carrying out a census and referendum will guarantee that Kirkuk would be annexed to Iraq's Kurdistan region.
 
"Arabs and Turkomans are studying all options, including force to defend their existence", he said.

Kurds, Arabs, Turkomans and Assyrians have been living in the ethnically mixed city for centuries.
 
Tensions have increased in recent months and there have been sporadic acts of violence, the most recent being five suicide bomb attacks at the weekend.

Kirkuk is vital to the future of Iraq because it sits on two per cent of the world's proven oil reserves.