Iraq postpones census again

2010-10-03 18:29

Baghdad - Iraq again postponed its first census in more than two decades because of political wrangling over disputed areas in the country's north, a deputy minister said on Sunday.

The October 24 census has now been delayed until December 5, the latest in a string of deferrals that have consistently put back a count originally due in 2007.

"There was a special meeting of the cabinet today to discuss the issue of the census and discuss the situation," deputy planning minister Mehdi al-Alak told AFP.

"There was some flexibility for the date of the census, and they decided that the date of the census should be delayed until December 5 to finish the negotiations over the unresolved questions.

"The land dispute (between Kurds and Arabs) is the main dispute," he said.

That row is mainly over a swathe of land in northern Iraq, centring around the provinces of Kirkuk and Nineveh, bordering the autonomous Kurdistan region.

Kurdish authorities in Arbil claim the land as their own, and Baghdad insists it should be administered by the central government.

There are fears that the dispute, particularly over the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, could trigger open conflict.

To reduce tensions in the disputed area, the US military has this year been conducting joint patrols and manning checkpoints with Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

Plans to hold the census in 2007 were scrapped because of nationwide sectarian strife and violence.

The last census in 1987 counted a total population of 16 million, but international organisations now put the figure at around 30 million.