By Idris Okuducu and Ali Mukarrem Garip
KIRKUK, Iraq (AA) - At least 19 Turkmen have been murdered in Iraq's Kirkuk province within the last four months, Iraqi Turkmen leaders said Thursday.
Ershad Salihi, president of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), which represents Iraq’s Turkmen minority, voiced concern over the increasingly frequent attacks on members of Kirkuk’s sizeable Turkmen community.
“And we fear this number may rise further in the run-up to coming elections,” Salihi said.
Muhammad Saadaddin Ilhanli, head of the Turkmen Development Party, for his part, said that “those who want to preserve their Turkmen identity” were being “targeted” with a view to “deterring us from taking part in the polls and weakening our collective position”.
Ilhanli said it would be difficult to prevent these crimes until Turkmen were given responsibility for security in their own region.
“In Kirkuk, security is currently being provided by militiamen,” he lamented.
Iraqi Turkmen, also known as Iraqi Turks, are a Turkic-speaking minority whose total population is estimated at some three million.
Most of them live in and around Iraq’s oil-rich Kirkuk province.
Many Turkmen in Kirkuk, including several politicians and professors, have recently been killed in “unsolved” attacks, sowing fear among the Turkmen community.
Early this year, for example, leading ITF member Alaa Eddine al-Salihi was gunned down in Kirkuk’s Al-Askari neighborhood by unknown assailants.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Nashat Beyatli, head of the Iraqi Human Rights Association, said the number of attacks on Kirkuk’s Turkmen had risen noticeably since Peshmerga forces withdrew from the province late last year.
The most recent murder was that of Ali Almas, a Turkmen intellectual and professor at Kirkuk University.
Aydin Maarouf, a Turkmen MP for the ITF in Erbil, blamed the attacks on “those who want to sow ethnic strife in the region”.
“The central government in Baghdad, no less than Erbil’s Kurdish Regional Government, is responsible for these murders,” Maarouf told Anadolu Agency.