Farewell Sheik Naif al-Jabouri

Slowly, it seems, all my sources are dying.

The latest death is in the northern oil rich city of Kirkuk, where there have been a number of attacks on non-Kurdish members of the City Council.

I get a terrible sickening feeling when I read about the assassination Friday, of Sheik Naif al-Jabouri, an Arab member of Kirkuk’s governing body. According to Reuters, gunmen sprayed the tribal leader with bullets while he was walking in his garden. The Sheiks’ family blamed his death on other Sunni Arabs because of Jabouri’s ties to Kurdish parties, who are trying to push thousands of Arabs out of Kirkuk and replace them with Kurdish refugees forced out during Saddam’s reign. (No reliable information on who killed Sheik Naif has been revealed.)

I met Sheik Naif in the Kirkuk government office in February and was impressed with what I saw. He chain smoked sitting behind his large wooden desk, his harsh eyes hiding a bit under his white tribal head-dress and thick black eye-brows. His thick mustache and goatee indicated his manhood.

He told me his father and brother were killed by Saddam’s regime when they attempted an officers’ revolt against the government. After that, the Sheik told me, the rest of his family was rounded up and put in prison.

It was his more contemporary actions, though, that distinguished him.

While most of the city’s Arab, Kurdish, and Turkomen politicians thrived on attacking the other groups and trying to make their faction stronger, Sheik Naif was one of the few who spoke out for peace.

Rather than running the Arab sectarian ticket, Sheik Naif joined in a "Brotherhood Slate" sponsored by Iraq’s main two Kurdish parties. From his position on the City Council, he tried to peacefully negotiate the return of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees from their camps in the football stadium on the outskirts of the city and in the Kurdish autonomous area to the North and East.

Unlike other Arabs in Kirkuk, he didn’t object to Kurdish refugees voting in the January 30th election. He regularly traveled to Arbil to negotiate with the Kurdish government and pushed the Kurdish parties to allow Kirkuk’s Arabs to stay or leave of their own will rather than be forced out by Kurdish peshmerga at gunpoint. He was active in raising money to help resettle Arabs who wanted to leave the city.

When I spoke to him in February, he was confident the repatriation will go smoothly. “The Kurds will not try to move people out in a hard way,” he told me. “That may be the way people talk on the street but that’s not the speech of their leaders at the negotiations. The Iraqi government will offer people money to move and jobs in the south of Iraq and then offer their houses here in Kirkuk to Kurdish refugees.”

And about the Arabs who do not want to move to the south?

“We should remember that in some countries you can become a citizen after living there for just four or five years,” he said. “Every person has a right to live where he wants. We all want to live in peace and safety and brotherhood.”

People interested in peace always have many enemies and at this writing it’s still not clear who was behind the killing of Sheik Naif al-Jabouri. But Sheik Naif is not the only Kirkuk official who’s come under attack in recent days.

Two ethnic Turkomen members of the Kirkuk City Council have also been targeted. One of them Brig. Sabah Qara Alton, a Turkoman, was gunned down after leaving a mosque in Kirkuk following Friday prayers.