ERBIL, Iraq, Oct 25 – The United Nations voiced concern on Tuesday that Kurdish authorities had forced 250 displaced Sunni Arab families to leave Kirkuk after a Daesh attack on the Kurdish-controlled city, calling the move “collective punishment”.
Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, told Reuters in an interview that the action came days before an expected mass exodus from the northern Sunni city of Mosul, where an offensive by Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, is underway against Daesh.
“We were informed that two days after the attack by Daesh, the Kirkuk authorities announced that they will be expelling the (displaced Sunni Arab) civilian population and just a few hours after the announcement we understand that around 250 civilian families felt they had no choice but to leave,” Grande said.
“The United Nations is very concerned about any action that could be understood as collective punishment,” she said, adding that she was worried that the move could set a precedent.
Kirkuk is the most disputed area of Iraq because of its complex population mix. The Kurds took full control of the province in 2014 after Daesh overran much of the north of the country, and Arabs complain that Kurds have since flooded to Kirkuk to tilt the demographic balance.
“Those who are displaced have the right to decide when they return and where they are going to live. They cannot be expelled this is why we are so worried of this particular precedent,” Grande said.
Grande said the displaced people left towards the nearby provinces of Salahuddin, Anbar and Diyala.
Authorities in Kirkuk suspect the Daesh fighters who attacked Kirkuk on Friday were helped by Sunni sleeper cells. Grande said the United Nations had no evidence that the families had helped Daesh but the timing of the move suggested it was used as a pretext to force them out.