Iraq delays nationwide census again

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s government Tuesday once again pushed back a nationwide census that has been stalled in a years long dispute over how to count the ethnic breakdown between Arabs and Kurds in the nation’s north.

The census will be Iraq’s first nationwide count in more than two decades.

Planning Ministry official Mahdi al-Alaq said no new date has been set for the population count that was supposed to take place Dec. 5.
Political leaders have been unable to resolve a disagreement over whether Iraq’s central government or the semiautonomous Kurdish region should carry out the census in disputed lands that are ethnically mixed.

Officials will meet again on Thursday to try to settle the matter.
“The reason behind the delays in holding the census is the deep mistrust among political groups regarding the disputed areas,” said Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman.

A 1997 census that put Iraq’s population at more than 26 million excluded the three northern provinces that comprise the semiautonomous Kurdish region. Officials have agreed to count the three provinces in the new census.

The count has been put off numerous times because of disputes over who should be legally counted as a resident in squatter-plagued areas in Iraq’s north that Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Turkomen each claim as their own.

Leaders recently agreed to ask the residents to identify their ethnicity as part of the census questionnaire — which had been one of the last big sticking points in the debate.

Ultimately, the census will help decide which group has a majority and, potentially, ruling authority, over a swath of disputed land in Diyala, Tamim and Ninevah provinces.

The ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, which sits on top of one-third of Iraq’s estimated $11 trillion in oil reserves, is the part of the disputed swath.

Iraq’s Planning Ministry says it has hired 250,000 workers to go door-to-door across the country for the count. Officials want to try to wrap up the census in one day to prevent people from moving from one area to another in an attempt to register twice — and therefore boost their ethnic population tally.

Also Tuesday, a bomb hidden on a car in Baghdad killed its driver and wounded three passers-by, city police said. The 1 p.m. bombing came in the capital’s western Sunni neighborhood of al-Qadisiya. A medic at Yarmouk hospital confirmed the casualties.