Kirkuk’s Clashes, Controversy and a City’s Struggle for Stability

Kirkuk’s Clashes, Controversy and a City’s Struggle for Stability
Photo by Engin Akyurt via Unsplash


Talita Dielemans

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

Following tensions that had been escalating in Kirkuk, a northern city in Iraq, rival protests between Kurdish residents and Turkmen and Arabs resulted in the death of four protestors who were shot dead and more than a dozen who were wounded. [1] Media reports were issued in which Prime Minister Sudani had ordered that the Iraqi security forces headquarters in Kirkuk should be handed over to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (“the KDP”'). [2] Although the building in Kirkuk served as the headquarters for the KDP, the Iraqi army has used it as a base since 2017. As a result of this contention, Arab and Turkmen opponents -who express discontent over the Kurdish rule- camped outside of the building to protest this handover, and when a group of Kurdish protestors approached the camp, violence unleashed. [3]

Prime Minister Sudani ordered a curfew in Kirkuk to prevent an upsurge of the violence while Masoud Barzani, the former president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, condemned the violence against Kurdish protestors and held disappointment towards the security forces. [4] He expressed that the security forces in Kirkuk did not prevent the violence and behaviour of some groups, and now protestors were faced with violence and the blood of youth was spilled. [5]  

Kirkuk -an oil rich-province in Northern Iraq- lies along the fault lines between the Kurdish autonomous region and areas that are controlled by Iraq’s central government, and has long been the focus of the country’s post-Islamic State violence. [6] This situation raises concerns about the recurrence of violence in the region and the need for authorities to safeguard the rights of all individuals under their authority and to protect their right to peaceful protesting and safety of all citizens amidst tension, regardless of their ethnicity and political affiliations.

Sources and further reading:

[1] Al Jazeera ‘Kirkuk curfew lifted after deadly unrest at rival protests by Arabs, Kurds’ (2 September 2023) <> accessed 5 September 2023.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Associated Press News ‘Clashes in Iraq’s Kirkuk over handover of police HQ to Kurds leave 1 dead, several injured’ (3 September 2023) <> accessed 6 September 2023.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Reuters ‘Clashes in Iraq’s Kirkuk kill three protestors; more than a dozen injured’ (3 September 2023) <> accessed 5 September 2023.