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Kurdish Parties Team Up in Kirkuk

New alliance aims to overcome disagreements about returnees' right to vote in one of Iraq's more controversial local elections.
By Ommar Gharib

The two main Kurdish parties in Iraq are joining forces in Kirkuk to take advantage of a recent decision that added tens of thousands of new Kurdish voters to the city’s voting lists.


The Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, recently announced the formation of the Kirkuk Brotherhood List, specifically designed to run in Kirkuk’s provincial election. The list unites 12 different parties and includes Kurds, Arabs and Turkoman - reflecting Kirkuk’s multi-ethnic population.


The KDP, PUK and other parties have formed a major bloc to fight the election for Iraq's National Assembly on January 30. But Kurdish parties had threatened to boycott Kirkuk's provincial election, scheduled for the same day, unless tens of thousands of Kurds who were expelled from the province by former president Saddam Hussein were allowed to vote for the local body.


Earlier this month, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq announced that displaced Kurds would after all be granted the right to vote in the Kirkuk election. That sparked protests from Arab and Turkoman leaders in this tense, ethnically-divided province.


Many Kurds view oil-rich Kirkuk as the future capital and economic heart of a future autonomous Kurdish entity, although the way Iraq's boundary lines are currently drawn, the city lies outside the three governorates that together make up the Kurdistan region, which has its own regional administration.


Since the fall of Saddam, tens of thousands of Kurds have returned to the city to try to reclaim their homes and register to vote in Kirkuk. Many Arabs and Turkoman fear the commission’s decision will skew the vote in the Kurdish community’s favour.


Mohammed Kamal, a top KDP official, said the Kirkuk Brotherhood List will attempt to mend relations among the city’s different ethnic and religious communities.


“Our list is the guarantee for fraternity among the city's national groups,” he said.


Jawad Jasim, one of the list’s Arab candidates, said the list would build its credibility by representing all Kirkuk’s ethnic and religious communities.


“My participation on this list is a response to those who intend to damage the fraternal ties that existed among the nations of the city,” he said.


But Rizgar Ali, a top PUK official who heads the Brotherhood List, said the list would also work to implement article number 58 of the Iraqi Administrative Law – a provision stating that all Iraqis displaced in Saddam's time, including Turkoman and Kurds, have the right to return to their homes. Many of these properties are now inhabited by Arabs resettled in the area as part of the former regime’s "Arabisation" policy.


Almas Fazil Kamal Agha, a deputy prosecutor-general who is running on the list, said she would concentrate on changing the Saddam-era laws that altered the demographic make-up of Kirkuk. “My goal is to use the rule of law to reverse all the decisions the former Iraqi government made about Kirkuk,” she said.


Irfan Kirkuki, a leading Turkoman candidate on the Kirkuk Brotherhood List, said he will work to erase the legacy of Arabisation on his own people. He said cooperation with the Kurds represents a good first step towards healing Kirkuk’s painful past.


“The slogan of our list is brotherhood - and that means unity among the city's peoples,” he said.


Ommar Gharib is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.