Kirkuk i Kurdistan har den senere tid opplevd en rekke bilbomber. Det er uvanlig i det som ellers er en forholdsvis rolig del av Irak. Bombene settes i sammenheng med folkeavstemningen til høsten. Hvem skal Kirkuk tilhøre?

In the past two weeks, the city 180 miles north of Baghdad has suffered a wave of bombings, including six car bombs on one day alone. One targeted a main Kurdish political organization. Another bomb this week seriously wounded a Kurdish teacher. Some Kurds claim that Sunni Arab groups with al-Qaida links are now operating here, but Turkomen and Arabs also have been hit by violence.

The dispute centers on whether this ancient city should become part of the semi-independent Kurdish zone in northeast Iraq, or remain as it is, part of broader Iraq, governed by the Arab-led coalition government in Baghdad. The referendum, whose date has not been agreed upon, would settle that by asking residents which they preferred.

Unlike in Baghdad, in Kirkuk there are sharp lines between the warring sides, a legacy of a battle for dominance here that predates the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

On one side of the divided city are people like Abdul-Karim Wadi, a Shiite Arab, who got what amounted to thousands of dollars in cash and a free apartment to move to Kirkuk from Baghdad 18 years ago. He was part of
Saddam Hussein’s campaign to flood the city with Arabs and cleanse it of Kurds.

Now, Wadi says, Kirkuk is his home and he has no plans to leave. He says he had no idea about Saddam’s intentions when he moved here.

On the other side are people like Soham Qadir, a plump Kurdish woman with a quick smile, who lives in a two-room house made of mud and stone on the city’s northwest fringe. Driven out of Kirkuk in 1995 by Saddam’s plan, she and her family returned in 2003 after the U.S.-led invasion — encouraged to do so by Kurdish politicians.

«We have the right to Kirkuk. It belongs to the Kurds,» Qadir said.

Chillingly, each side has increased its warnings that it is armed and ready to fight.