Kirkuk- “Before we couldn’t proudly declare that we are Turkmen, now our flag is flying over Kirkuk’s citadel again,” Iraqi Omar Najat, 23, told Agence France Presse.
According to the agency, with the return of Kirkuk to Iraqi control, the balance of power appears to have shifted between the ethnic communities.
Three weeks before, the disputed city’s Kurds were gleefully taking part in the September 25 Kurdish independence referendum in open defiance of Baghdad.
Today, the election posters have been torn down. Huge Iraqi flags have been strung from palm trees and across buildings, although Kurdish flags have been left flying from lampposts.
AFP said that the election posters of referendum’s chief advocate, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, have also been torn down.
In the Kurdish neighbourhood of Rahimawa, business has been slow for the few shops that have reopened such as tyre salesman Abu Sima, 36, as he awaits a return to normality.
His nephews and nieces had to wait for schools to reopen in the wake of the upheaval on Sunday as Iraqi forces entered the city.
In three days and with barely any resistance from Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Iraqi forces took control of the whole of the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
For fear of violence on Sunday, Abu Sima and his wife joined thousands of other families, mostly Kurds, in fleeing the city. But like most others, they have returned.
“We had to come back because we, the Kurds, are the majority, we were the original residents of Kirkuk,” he said.
In his fabrics store at the heart of the market in the shadow of the citadel, Omar Najat couldn’t agree less with that historical assessment.
“That there (the citadel) is Ottoman, Turkish, and Kirkuk is Iraqi Turkmen,” he insisted.
“Now that Baghdad is in charge, we have security, not like before when we had another power in place,” the young man told AFP.
He was referring to Kirkuk’s governor Najm Eddine Karim who brought the referendum to the province until Baghdad fired him.
He had previously gone on television to urge Kurdish residents to take up arms to resist the entry of Iraqi forces into the city.
AFP said that near a central square where a giant blue Turkmen flag has been hoisted, Abu Hussein is a firm believer in the coexistence of Kirkuk’s 800,000 residents.
The Kurds make up two-thirds of its population, 25 percent are Turkmen and the rest Arab Muslims and Christians.
“We know how to live alongside each ether,” said Abu Hussein. The Kurdish shopkeeper next door has an all-Arab workforce.
“It’s not just the past year or two, we’ve all been living together for decades,” said Abu Hussein, a 47-year Turkmen spice seller.
For Mohammed Hamdani, any blame lies on “politicians” in Baghdad, Irbil, which is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and other places.
“They can’t agree between themselves and it’s us, ordinary people, who pay the price,” he said.
Hamdani’s request is straightforward: “Whoever our leaders are, all we ask of them is one thing: that they give us security and the means to feed ourselves.”