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Kirkuk province didn’t participate in elections earlier this year, as its future continues to be debated in the Iraqi parliament. Numerous deadlines on these decisions have passed, most recently March 31. Elections might take place here this summer.

The Kurds here are the most ardent supporters of a continued U.S. presence, but Arabs and Turkmens interviewed also said a U.S. withdrawal would be bad.

Power-sharing agreements between different groups and other steps forward are in limbo here partly because there are no clear numbers on the ethnic makeup of Kirkuk province.

Sri Kulkarni, a public diplomacy officer with the State Department’s Provincial Reconstruction Team, estimates the population to be between 45 percent and 55 percent Kurdish, 25 percent and 35 percent Arab and 10 percent to 15 percent Turkmen, with a smaller Christian population.

Kurds flooded the province after 2003, many claiming displacement during Saddam’s forced "Arabization" of the region. Some Arabs counter that the Kurdish Regional Government to the north sent Kurds here to increase the population in order to fix power-sharing dynamics. Some claim the local population swelled from 700,000 to 1.3 million after the war’s onset due to the new Kurds.

U.S. military officials say Arabs want a 1978 census used to determine population percentages, while Kurds want a 1957 count as a baseline.

Tied into that population question and the Kurdish influx post-2003 are about 40,000 property disputes, military officials said. Just one of these disputes took Iraq’s Commission for the Resolution of Real Property Disputes a year to solve.

Kurds claim they were displaced, while Arabs and other groups claim they have legally binding property documents from the old regime.

"Those guys are squatters as far as the Kurds are concerned," said Lt. Col. Andy Shoffner, commander of the 4th Squadron, 9th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, which is responsible for much of the southern part of the province.

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