Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraqi Kurds Seize the Moment

Kurds flock to the polling stations in the hope of strengthening their political muscle.
By Rebaz Mahmood

Voter turnout was high in northern Iraq, as large numbers of Kurdish voters cast ballots hoping to win greater autonomy for their region.


There were some reports of violence in the ethnically-divided city of Kirkuk. One person was reportedly killed when a mortar shell fell on the sports stadium, where displaced Kurds were voting. There also were small skirmishes between Iraqi National Guards and insurgents in Hawija, southwest of the city. No casualties were reported.


Election officials reported that voting in many Kirkuk polling stations was over by midday, although the polling sites stayed open until 5 pm, in accordance with election law.


Many Kurds view oil-rich Kirkuk as a future capital and economic heart of an independent Kurdish state.


Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, tens of thousands have returned to try to reclaim their homes and register to vote in the city, which lies just outside the Kurdish autonomous region.


The Independent Electoral Commission announced earlier this month that displaced Kurds would be granted the right to vote in Kirkuk’s election, causing leading Arab parties to boycott the poll. Abdulrahman al-Munshid al-Ubaidi, an Arab leader in Kirkuk, urged Arabs to vote for the Turkoman Front days before the elections.


“We and the Turkoman Front are people of the same house (ilk) and we won’t allow the Kurds to be victorious in their attempt to annex Kirkuk to the Kurdistan region,” he said.


Polling violations were reported in some of the city’s districts. Arif Qurbani, a Kurdish reporter, said that members of the Turkoman Front were seen telling voters in one district to avoid marking their fingers with indelible ink so they could vote a second time for the Turkoman list.


In other districts, people held celebrations to mark the historic vote. Voters in the mainly Kurdish al-Iskan neighbourhood danced in the streets and slaughtered sheep as offerings.


Farther north in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, poll workers said the elections went smoothly. They said the only problems involved illiterate voters coming to the polling stations without a literate helper, which is permitted by law. Officials in charge of the polling stations stepped in to help.


"There have not been any problems hampering the process, but we cannot monitor the official in charge of polling station when he votes for illiterate people,” said Hushiyar Najeeb, a poll monitor with the Kurdistan Communist Party.


The only other problems involved mistakes in voter registration. The Independent Electoral Commission determined that those voters could amend their entries and still vote.


"Fortunately there are few problems like these," said electoral commission worker Daroon Rahim.


Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, Secretary-General Jalal Talabani was one of the first people to vote in Sulaimaniyah, where citizens began lining up before polling stations opened.


The Kurdish turnout across the region reflected the community’s hope that the ballot would win them greater autonomy.


Women in bright Kurdish costumes waited outside voting centres in Sulaimaniyah with children or elderly parents in tow. People exited polling stations proudly showing fingers stained by the purple ink used to ensure people could not vote twice.


"I wish my baby could be born today so that it would be proud of itself," said pregnant woman Dashney Bakir.


Rebaz Mahmood is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.


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