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Iraq's Turkmen: A voice from the past Add to ...

Kirkuk, Iraq - Most of the chairs at Abdullah's Restaurant still have the plastic wrappings on them.

The large popular eatery on the northern outskirts of the city of Kirkuk, capital of the ethnically mixed and oil-rich province of the same name, has been reopened for a few months, but people in these parts like to leave the wrappings on things - furniture, gearshifts - as long as they can.

The restaurant, famous for its enormous helpings and excellent grilled fish, closed abruptly last December when it was the target of a suicide bombing. Fifty-five people were killed and 120 injured in an attack that targeted a large private lunch between some officials of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (the movement of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani) and some prominent Arab tribal leaders.

I stopped by Abdullah's before leaving northern Iraq to meet with a leader of the area's Turkmen community. Riad Sari Kahya is the leader of the Turkmenli Party, one of several Turkmen parties in this province.

Mr. Riad served his people in Iraq's provisional government and helped draft the transitional authority's constitution (the precursor to Iraq's formal constitution).

"The Turkmen people [members of a central Asian race that moved west into Turkey and into what is now Iraq and Syria several hundred years ago]made up almost half the population of the province," he told me, "before Saddam."

"The Kurds were about 40 per cent of the population," he said.

"And the Arabs?" I asked.

"Less than 10 per cent," he replied. "They arrived here only very lately."

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