The northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk is electing a provisional city council Saturday, becoming only the second city in the country to restore local government. Kirkuk is an oil-rich city of 850,000 residents.
Kirkuk is also a cauldron of ethnic tensions between Kurds, Arabs, Turkomens, and Assyrians. Fighting last week between Arabs and Kurds killed at least 11 people.
But on Saturday, 300 representatives of the various communities gathered for a convention at the governor's office to chose a new city council. Each of the four main ethnic groups will occupy six seats on the council, and six more members selected from the business community will be appointed by the U.S. military.
The U.S. Army has tightened security at the governor's office for the convention. Two American tanks are parked outside. Sand-filled barriers have been erected, and all visitors are searched for weapons.
U.S. Army Major General Raymond Odierno, commander of American ground forces in northern Iraq, is supervising the convention. He calls it a first step toward democracy.
"I don't want to be the person in here making decisions for the Iraqi people," general Odierno said. " I want them to be a part of the decision process. So that's why we are going through this interim government."
General Odierno oversaw a similar exercise earlier this month in the city of Mosul, about 160 kilometers northwest of Kirkuk. He says the city council there is so far functioning effectively.
General Odierno says the run-up to the Kirkuk convention has not been easy, as he has tried to root out anyone with strong ties to Saddam Hussein's former ruling Baath party from participating.
The U.S. military this week detained two Arab candidates. One was a lawyer discovered to have been a senior Baath party member. He is still in custody.
The second man was suspected of providing weapons to Arab gunmen who battled American troops last Sunday in the outlying village of Hawijah. He was held for a day and then released without charge.