KDP Flexes Muscles in Dohuk

As in 2005 election, party still by far the strongest force in the province.

KDP Flexes Muscles in Dohuk

As in 2005 election, party still by far the strongest force in the province.

Friday, 24 July, 2009
Election rivalries have a history of turning violent in Dohuk, Iraq’s northernmost province along its border with Turkey.

In the previous election in 2005, four supporters of the moderate Islamist party, the Kurdistan Islamic Union, KIU, were killed and their offices were burnt down. Several party activists were injured.

Supporters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, were blamed for the attacks, which took place after the KIU withdrew from a coalition with the KDP. However, KDP leaders were quick to condemn the violence.

There is less tension this time and campaigning is somewhat muted. Leaders of the KIU and KDP say they share some common goals, even though they are running in separate lists.

As last time, the governing KDP is by far the strongest force in the province.

The party is one half of the Kurdistani list coalition, which has held the largest rallies in the region and bagged all the best advertising spots. Cars carrying the list’s colours can be seen cruising through the main streets.

Supporters of all the major parties have been accused of removing or defacing posters for other lists. Most of the posters left in place belong to the Kurdistani list.

Dohuk province has a reputation as Kurdistan’s backwater – a relatively tranquil mountain region with a strong sense of community and civic pride.

In the provincial capital, residents are known to pick up litter themselves in an effort to preserve their town’s reputation as the cleanest in Kurdistan. In the smaller towns, much of the campaigning is taking place with door-to-door visits.

The Kurds of Dohuk province speak the Badini dialect, similar to the form of Kurdish spoken in southern Turkey and distinct from Sorani, which predominates in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah.

The leaders of the region have worked hard for recognition within the KDP. Their supporters believe the party represents their interests best.

“The KDP is the apple of our eyes, we cannot live without it,” said Barvan Azad, a Dohuk resident. “The party’s leader, Mustafa Barzani dedicated his life to the Kurdish nation,” he said, referring to the hero of the Kurds’ rebellion against Baghdad from the 1950s to the 1970s. His son and nephew now lead the party.

Though some people also support the Islamists or the Change list, there is little visible sign of that on the streets of the province.

The Islamist KIU’s straight-talking leaders scorn secular practices such as taking alcohol and allowing the sexes to mix before marriage. Though popular with conservative Muslims, observers say their support may have been dented this time by the decision to partner with two secular, leftist parties.

“I had voted for the KIU previously but I will not vote for it this time because it has joined some unbelievers,” said Samia Shukri, a woman in Dohuk town, the province’s capital.

She said she planned only to vote for Massoud Barzani: the KDP leader and candidate in the Kurdistan region’s presidential election, which coincides with the July 25 parliamentary vote.

Trade with neighbouring Turkey is the major engine of the economy in the border outpost of Zakho and in nearby Dohuk town.

People in Zakho often complain they have lost out despite their town’s felicitous position. They say all the big contracts go to Turkish companies and all the best jobs go to people from Dohuk.

They say most of the top local KDP officials are from Dohuk, not Zakho. Campaigning is said to be more energetic in Zakho, as the people there have high hopes that their leaders will address their needs.

“Zakho is being neglected by the government while most places are being developed,” said a young man there who asked not to be named. “Everyone is excited about this election because all the lists have promised development.”

Asked about his own voting choice, the man said, “I know we are all Kurds but I have to look for the best option for my town... This is the last chance for the Kurdistani list to prove they are leaders of all Kurds – not just any one tribe or group.”

Many residents say the province’s biggest problem is its water supply – particularly erratic after last year’s drought. Some areas of Dohuk town receive only four hours of running water every day.

However, the electricity supply in the province is more stable than elsewhere in Kurdistan. Most parts of Dohuk used to receive 12 hours of power a day. Last month, KRG prime minister Nechirvan Barzani visited the region. Since then, the supply has gone up to 16 hours a day.

Some remain disappointed with the rate of progress, however. Sadullah Ali Abdulrahman said he would be voting for the Change list, because it “can stand against corruption and work for a Kurdistan where human rights are respected”.

IWPR-trained reporter Niwar Mohammed Salim in Dohuk contributed to this report.
Support our journalists