U.S. soldiers carried out the first mass eviction of Kurds on Tuesday from Arab homes that were seized with the approval of a Kurdish faction.
Hundreds of Kurds pleaded and argued with troops from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division sent in to clear out a housing complex built for Iraqi military families in this town north of Mosul. But U.S. troops persuaded about 400 Kurds to leave peacefully. About 400 more were allowed to stay overnight until more trucks could arrive to move their belongings, said Col. Joe Anderson, who commanded the daylong operation involving about 175 soldiers.
“It’s very sad,” said Anderson, 43, of New York, as a Kurdish family gathered up clothes, bed frames, cartons of eggs and other items to move out just days after moving in. “We don’t want to be caught in the middle. We’re just following orders.”
As they packed, several Kurdish families said officials from the Kurdistan Democratic Party told them to move into the Arabs’ houses in recent days. More than 8,000 Arabs fled the middle-class housing complex as KDP fighters advanced toward Mosul. The Kurds say they were reclaiming land seized by Saddam Hussein’s regime to “Arabize” the area.
Taha Yasin Mohammed, 70, showed a slip of paper stamped by the KDP, with a house number on it. He said the faction gave him about $4 for transportation Sunday and told him to move to Domiz with his son, daughter-in-law and two of their children from their village some 50 miles away.
“This is Kurdish land and it belongs to the Kurdish government,” he said after packing a pickup truck with the family’s belongings. The KDP “has the right to offer these houses to those of us who sacrificed for Kurdistan against Saddam. He treated us unjustly and now the new government is treating us unjustly.”
Faizah Ahmed, 47, insisted her family of 10 had nowhere to live if they left Domiz because they had given up a rented home to move here. “Americans came to liberate us and they did. Now they are going to throw us out,” he said.
The remaining Kurds are expected to be out of Domiz by today, and the homes’ Arabs owners should be able to return from temporary shelters later in the week, Anderson said.
Anderson called it a military solution to a political problem, adding that it isn’t likely to be repeated in the many northern Iraqi villages where Kurds have taken over Arab homes.
Hussein’s Baath Party began to seize land and expel tens of thousands of minority Kurds, Assyrians and Turkmens in the 1970s so it could resettle Arabs in an effort to strengthen Baghdad’s control over northern Iraq.
Kurds who either ordered Arabs to leave villages or took over Arab homes abandoned during the recent war said they are simply righting the wrongs of Hussein’s policy.
There is no official count of Arabs driven from their homes. But a random check over more than two weeks, along an arc from south of Kirkuk to areas near the Syrian border, found communities with an Arab population totaling more than 13,000 that said Kurds had taken their houses.
There are no courts to untangle the knot of property claims and counterclaims that is Hussein’s legacy, so it landed on the desk of Capt. Teresa Raymond, airborne soldier and attorney.
“Ideally, a legal resolution is the best idea,” said Raymond, 32, of Bowling Green, Ky. “But this is an Iraqi issue, and we want the Iraqi people to resolve it using the Iraqi legal system.
“We’re not coming in here and telling them how to be American and how to do things, but we certainly want them to understand the principles of democracy [so] that they can fairly and accurately apply them.”
That’s going to take time, and thousands of displaced Arabs have urgent needs such as food, clothing and proper housing, Raymond said. Foreign relief agencies that normally meet those needs have been slow to start work in the Mosul area, she said.
“The people who are hurting are the Iraqi people because we are not getting the nongovernment organization involvement here that would be a vast help to people like the Domiz folks,” Raymond said.
A crowd of about 30 Kurdish men and boys greeted Anderson when he landed by helicopter in a wheat field Tuesday morning, and several shouted that they would not leave land that was rightfully Kurdish.
In carrying out the evictions, two of Anderson’s most potent weapons were handwritten notes from KDP leader Massoud Barzani confirming that he had agreed that Kurds should withdraw from seized property and settle the land disputes through negotiations.
Anderson showed Barzani’s letters to KDP Lt. Col. Ramadhan Abdal Mohammed and repeatedly told him that any Kurds who refused to leave Domiz by nightfall would be detained.
Shawkat Bamarni, the KDP’s chief in Mosul and a city councilor elected Monday, tried to persuade Anderson to let families of Kurdish fighters killed in various wars against Hussein keep their new homes in Domiz. Anderson stood his ground.
“No one has the right to displace other people,” the American colonel said, reminding Bamarni that the squatters received notice of the evictions Sunday. “There are Kurdish towns all over the place. They can go there and be taken care of.”
Two Army Kiowa helicopters flew low circles over Domiz all day Tuesday, keeping pressure on the Kurds to leave. Loudspeakers mounted on a roving Humvee blared a warning: “All people of Domiz. You must leave all the houses of this city at 3 o’clock because they are not yours. This order is a law applied to everyone here.”
Soldiers on foot patrol, backed by the reconnaissance from the Kiowas, disarmed about 40 Kurdish guerrillas who had tried to hide illegal weapons. The seizures included one rocket-propelled grenade launcher, 10 9-millimeter handguns, more than 35 AK-47 assault rifles and a couple of heavy machine guns.
After the deadline to leave had passed, a new warning was broadcast: “An announcement from the American commander: It’s time to leave, and don’t take anything from the houses that doesn’t belong to you.”
Soldiers guarding the housing complex’s main gate checked each vehicle as it left to make sure the Kurds heeded the warning.
By early evening, they had confiscated five large water tanks, half a dozen sinks and at least one toilet.