Tuz Khurmatu is a multi-ethnic and multi-denominational town located within the Salahuddin province of Iraq. Its population is made up primarily of Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs. The town has had a recent history of violence due to foreign intervention, sectarian tensions, bombings by Al Qaeda then ISIS, and its geopolitical position on the frontier with Iraqi Kurdistan.
The most recent violence was sparked after the Kurdish independence referendum on 25 September 2017. Tuz Khurmatu was under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government forces, the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) and local police. As a consequence of the failed referendum, the town was taken by the Iraqi forces, including the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), from the hands of the Kurdish Peshmerga.
Clashes within the town took place on 16 October 2017 between the Iraqi forces, backed by the PMU, and Peshmerga forces. By and large, the Shia Turkmen of Tuz Khurmatu supported the Shia-dominated PMU while the Kurds of the town mostly backed the Kurdish-majority Peshmerga.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) estimated that approximately 35,000 civilians fled Tuz Khurmatu as a result of these clashes. An in-depth report by the human rights organisation Amnesty International shows the extent of the damage done to the communities of the town, both in terms of tangible damage to infrastructure and the harm done to communal trust.
The Iraqi Parliament issued a decision that they would form a multi-ethnic committee to investigate the events in the city of Tuz Khurmatu.
As the security situation in the town has stabilised due to the presence of the central government’s Rapid Response Units, Kurds who were displaced from their homes during the fighting are now returning. The federal police have been charged with providing security in Tuz Khurmatu in place of the Iraqi Army. This also comes after Hadi al-Amiri, an influential leader linked to the PMU, promised to withdraw PMU forces from the town.