BAGHDAD, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Iraq has delayed by a year a plan to hold its first nationwide census in two decades, the government spokesman said on Monday. The proposal has inflamed ethnic tensions in disputed areas.
The cabinet approved a new committee representing the central government and Kurdish regional government in Iraq’s north, designed to settle differences over holding the census in areas disputed by Arabs and minority Kurds, spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement. Earlier this month, the government announced it would not hold the census in October 2009 as planned, delaying it possibly until April 2010, several months after highly anticipated national elections in January, or later.
The decision to put it off by a full year may reflect expectations about the difficulty of overcoming opposition to the census, which would be the first to include Iraq’s northern Kurdish regions since 1987.
Some ethnic groups in areas like Kirkuk, the contested oil-producing region that is home to Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, oppose the census because they feel it might reveal demographic data that undermine their political ambitions.
Demographics are an explosive issue in Iraq, in part due to efforts from Kurds, believed to make up a fifth of the population, to expand the boundaries of their largely autonomous northern enclave to include Kirkuk and other disputed areas. (Reporting by Missy Ryan and Aseel Kami; writing by Missy Ryan)