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Not All Kurds Support Constitution

While Kurds may overwhelmingly vote “yes” in the referendum, a vocal minority is expressing reservations.
By Talar Nadir

Seiran Taha, a Kurdish law professor at Sulaimaniyah University, is not just opposed to Iraq’s draft constitution. “Opposed” is not a strong enough word.

"No, no, no and one million times no to the constitution," she said, adding that by supporting the document "we will do to ourselves as Kurds what the British did to Kurdistan 80 years ago when they forcefully incorporated it to the Iraqi state".

A recent poll of almost a thousand eligible Kurdish voters indicated 79 per cent would vote for the constitution. But in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, a vocal minority said they would either reject the document or stay away from the polls on October 15.

Many of these dissenters are opposed to the constitution because they believe it extinguishes the possibility of a Kurdish state or does not support women’s rights.

And a significant number said they wouldn’t participate because they do not trust the Kurdish political parties or the political process.

Some have accused the parties of corruption and maintained they do not serve the people. Services such as water and electricity are poor and housing is expensive, making daily life a struggle for many.

While the electricity and water issues as well as concerns about the constitution are not exclusive to Kurdish areas, they are diminishing public confidence in the rival Kurdish political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, which controls the eastern sector of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, PDK, which runs the western sector.

In this sense, voters are treating the poll as a referendum on the political situation as much as - or, in some cases, more than - the constitution. Leaders from both parties helped draft the constitution and are encouraging Kurds to support it.

“I and many other people I know will vote no to the constitution because the government hasn’t done anything to improve the living conditions of people,” said Dana Abdullah, a 19-year-old taxi driver. “And whatever [the government] does, it is temporary in order to encourage people to participate in [elections]."

Dana Sherko, a 31-year-old a civil-servant, arrived at his polling station at six in the morning to vote for parliamentary representatives on January 30, 2005. He will go to the polls again, this time casting his ballot against a constitution - which he otherwise supports - as a protest vote against the government.

“I’m critical of the Kurdish authorities because for over 14 years they have run this country and they have done nothing,” he said. “I believe they also won’t do anything in the future."

Iraq’s Kurdish territories have enjoyed relative autonomy from Iraqi rule since 1991.

Drafted by a national assembly committee that included members of numerous political, religious and ethnic factions, the constitution was supposed to incorporate the demands of Iraq’s diverse population. But serious concerns remain.

The constitution becomes null and void if two-thirds of voters in three provinces vote against it in the referendum. The largest opposition comes from Sunni Arab leaders, who fear federalism in Iraq may fragment the country.

At the same time, many Kurds who want a Kurdish state worry that the constitution will end their national ambitions. The recent decision to allow amendments after the referendum may ease certain of these concerns, but some voters are extremely sceptical that the document will help Kurds.

“Kurds cannot achieve their rights through constitution because it is only ink on paper,” said Dereen Dler, a 25-year-old civil servant. “Because of this I will vote ‘no’."

"I expect nothing from that constitution because as a Kurd, I want us to be independent,” said Niaz Mahmood, a 20-year-old student. “This constitution glues us to Iraq, and because of this I don’t support it."

Salahadiny Muhtady, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s central committee, said people who oppose the constitution do not understand its role. “It will not decide the destiny of the Kurdish people in Iraq," he said. “It does not mean that both nations will stay together forever."

He maintained that those who vote against it “will hurt themselves more than the political parties”.

Many women’s activists said they will vote against the Iraqi constitution because it relies too heavily on Islam, which could lead to legal interpretations that restrict women’s rights.

The draft document says “no law should be passed that contradicts the principles of Islam. This is obviously against the rights of women”, said Wazira Jalal, director of the New Life Organisation, a non-governmental group helping female victims of the Anfal campaign against Kurds in 1988.

Kurdish political parties in Baghdad agreed to the constitution on condition that their political demands were met, but in doing so they "sold women out", said Najiba Mahmood, director of women’s projects at the Civil Development Organisation, a civil society body. She will not go to the polls.

Talar Nadir is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.

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