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Kurdish Parties Unhappy at Split

Islamic group criticised for decision to leave the main Kurdish electoral bloc at a time when competition for votes is getting tougher.
By Talar Nadir
The decision of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan to run independently in the upcoming parliamentary election reflects rumblings of discontent with the two main Kurdish parties, which are already predicted to lose some seats as more Sunni Arabs seek representation.



The Islamic Union of Kurdistan, IUK, established during the civil conflict in Kurdistan in 1994, is a moderate Islamic party that joined the strategic alliance between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, in the January 2005 election to an interim parliament. The IUK is considered the third most powerful Kurdish party.



The party announced in late October that it would run separately from the Kurdish Alliance in order to "shake up political stagnation" in Iraqi Kurdistan. It said that having one alliance dominated by the two big parties reflected a "chill in the political life" of Kurdish politics.



Iraq’s national assembly election is due on December 15. While there are 19 political alliances on offer, many Kurds are expected to vote for a specifically Kurdish slate when they go to the polls.



But aside from the withdrawal of the IUK, the Kurdish Alliance is expected to lose some of its 77 parliamentary seats because key Sunni Arab parties which boycotted the January 2005 polls will be running in next month's election, so Sunnis are likely to claim more seats in parliament, which are awarded according to the percentage of votes won. In the January election, the Kurdish Alliance came second after the Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance.



Some Kurds are concerned that a larger Sunni presence in parliament will hurt Kurdish efforts to create a federal state, and to incorporate into Kurdistan areas such as Kirkuk which they believe are rightfully theirs.



Alliance leaders are naturally not best pleased with the IUK’s decision to break with the coalition at such a critical point. KDP politburo member Ezadeen Barwary called the IUK's “a threat to the Kurdish Alliance's goals.”



“If we are weak when we go into the election, we will not be able to defend Kurdish rights, and we know that there are certain parties that are hostile to Kurds,” he said.



In Kurdish areas, the IUK is largely catering to voters frustrated with the PUK and KDP. Many residents of Kurdistan are increasingly disenchanted with the way their region is governed as they struggle with poor public services, rising housing costs and corruption.



The parties may also have lost some favour by helping draft a constitution that does not support Kurdish autonomy to the level that many Kurds wanted. In the end, however, vast majority of Kurdish voters approved the constitution in the October 15 referendum.



The IUK estimates that it has the support of 15 to 20 per cent of Kurdistan residents. It has promised to fight corruption both in the Kurdish region and in Iraq as a whole, and to provide better public services. The Kurdish Alliance is campaigning on the same two issues, as well as pushing other policies such as redrawing borders to bring areas like Kirkuk into Kurdistan.



Aso Ali, a senior member of the PUK, said he was disappointed with the IUK’s decision. Although he did not think it would significantly hurt the alliance, he still felt that “it would have benefited the Kurds to stick together.”



The alliance also includes the Islamic League of Kurdistan, the Toilers’ Party of Kurdistan, the Communist Party of Kurdistan, the Socialist Party of Kurdistan and two Turkoman parties.



Ali said the IUK had felt frustrated because it was not given any high-level posts in the government, and had been promised only three seats in parliament after the forthcoming election. The IUK currently has six of the Kurdish Alliance's 77 seats in the Iraqi National Assembly, and holds nine of the 111 seats in the Kurdistan regional assembly, also elected last January.



Omar Abdul-Azeez, a senior IUK member, said his party broke with the alliance not over the issue of seats, but rather because it feels Kurdistan needs fresh political voices and better representation.



Abdul-Azeez said the party would not join an Islamic alliance or any other party list, because it wanted Kurdish issues to remain its primary focus.



But some leaders are still concerned that the Kurdish Alliance will be weaker as a result.



Shwan Ahmed, an expert on political Islam, said the withdrawal of the IUK might ultimately hurt Kurdish interests because it could split the vote, even if only to a marginal extent.



Ahmed noted that the IUK appealed to a somewhat different electorate from its ertswhile partners. The former, he said, were interested in Islamic issues and "would never vote for a list that includes the PUK, KDP and the secular parties".



On the other hand, he said that liberal secular voters "who are angry with the platform and policies of the PUK and KDP are also well aware that the IUK is not more liberal than they are.”



Talar Nadir is an IWPR trainee in Sulaimaniyah.

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