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Kurds Claim Victory in Kirkuk

Early indications are that a Kurdish-led coalition set up especially for the controversial area has swept the board.
By Ommar Gharib

A coalition led by Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties says it has won 59 per cent of the vote in elections to the governing council of Taamim province, which includes the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.


Of the 440,000 ballots cast for the governing council election, the Kirkuk Brotherhood List received 260,000 votes, lawyer Ali Kadhir, representing the bloc, said on February 4. That suggests that the Brotherhood List will get 25 to 27 of the 41 seats on the provincial council. It should also give the Kurdish parties a prominent voice in choosing a governor for Taamim province.


The Kirkuk Brotherhood List was set up by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, specifically to run in Kirkuk's provincial election. The list unites a total of 12 different parties and includes Arabs and Turkoman as well as Kurds, reflecting the region’s ethnic diversity.


The Brotherhood List should not be confused with the national-level Kurdistan Alliance List, the coalition also led by the PUK and KDP which ran in the election for the new Iraqi National Assembly. The January 30 polls consisted of three different elections: for the 275-member national parliament, for councils in 18 governorates including Taamim, and final for a 111-seat Kurdish regional assembly that covers the three governorates known as Kurdistan (Sulaimaniyah, Arbil and Dahuk).


Official election results have not yet been announced by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, IECI.


Nihad Zainal, deputy head of the electoral commission in Kirkuk, declined to comment on the figures released by the Brotherhood List, saying that only IECI headquarters in Baghdad was empowered to discuss such matters.


Control over Kirkuk, home to Iraq’s northern oilfields, has been a contentious election issue, with Kurds, Turkoman and Arabs all claiming the city as their own. Many Kurds see it as a potential capital for a future autonomous region, although it lies outside the borders of the current Kurdish-controlled area.


Tension increased further after the IECI ruled that more than 70,000 Kurds who have returned to the region since being evicted under Saddam Hussein’s policy of “Arabisation” would be able to vote locally.


Ali Kadhir sees the election data he cited as a victory for the returning Kurds over those Arabs who were resettled here by Saddam. “This is a very important victory for Kurds and for all the real Kirkuk people,” he said. “Every decision made by the governing council will be for the Kurds and for all the parties in our list. It will not be for the Arabs who moved here.”


Majid Izzat Juma, a member of the Iraqi Turkoman Front coalition, and a former member of Kirkuk’s city council, is unhappy with the IECI decision to allow returning Kurds to vote.


“The elections were not in our interest, even though we had a lot of supporters who went to the polling stations,” he said. “The main problem was the IECI decision to allow the displaced Kurds [to vote] - that was not in our favour.”


Tahseen Mohammed Ali, who is political council chief of the Turkoman Islamic Movement as well as head of Kirkuk city council, said he thought the elections went relatively well.


“Despite the fact that there were some problems, the elections were generally successful,” he said.


The Kirkuk branch of the IECI has set up an impartial committee made up of various political parties to decide what to do in the town of Haweeja, just southwest of Kirkuk, where polls remained open until late in the evening on January 30, when they should have closed at 5 pm. Polling stations did not close until 11 pm because voters did not start arriving until the afternoon.


A member of the committee set up to adjudicate on the matter said it might rule that all 50,000 votes in Haweeja could be declared legitimate, whatever time they were cast, or else it could refer the matter to the IECI in Baghdad.


Because of the hold-up over Haweeja, votes from the Kirkuk area have not yet been sent to IECI headquarters for the final count. Local election officers said they expected the ballots to be sent to Baghdad late on February 4.


Ommar Gharib is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.


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