Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Regional Polls Leave Kurds Cold

Kurds are keen to vote for Iraq’s National Assembly, but many are too disillusioned to take part in the regional poll.
By Talar Nadir

Kurdish voters are preparing to turn out en masse to cast their ballot for Iraq’s transitional National Assembly, but the election for the Kurdish regional assembly is leaving many cold.


Muhammed Qadir, an auto electrician and father of two sons who died in Kurdish uprisings against Saddam Hussein’s regime, was typical of the Kurds interviewed by IWPR. Like many, he will take part in the national election, but abstain from voting for the Kurdish parliament and provincial councils.


People in the semi-autonomous region known as Iraqi Kurdistan are eligible to vote for its assembly as well as for the individual governing councils of Dahuk, Arbil and Sulaimaniyah, the three governorates that make up the region. Similar governorate-level elections are scheduled in all 18 Iraqi provinces.


In the national vote, the two dominant Kurdish parties - the Kurdish Democratic Party, KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, - have come together to form the Kurdish Unity List coalition.


But in the local elections, each will campaign separately.


When it comes to the regional polls, Muhammed Qadir said, "It's impossible for me to vote for these parties. What have they done, and for whom?"


Speaking to IWPR as he was getting his father’s name corrected on the voter registration lists, Farman Farhan said that although he'd be voting in the national poll, he too is unenthusiastic about Kurdish politicians.


“Who's got any faith left in these parties, to vote for them?” he asked.


Gulala Ali was in the minority of those interviewed, expressing a desire to participate in all three polls – the national, regional and governorate ballots. “They are all important for me,” he said.


Most Kurds are tired of the partisan politics and occasionally bloody conflicts between the KDP and the PUK which have divided their region for decades. They see the National Assembly as a new chance to gain a voice at national level, particularly in the drafting of a new constitution, the Iraqi assembly's primary task.


Some Kurdish groups see the constitutional process as a way of pushing for a federalised Iraq – with bigger regions rather than the current 18 governorates as the primary administrative unit – in which they could bolster their autonomy.


They also hope the election will help them regain areas such as the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which Saddam detached from the Kurdish region and subjected to a policy of demographic change known as "Arabisation". Kirkuk claimed by both Kurds and Arabs, with the local Turkoman also asserting their rights.


Fouad Hussain, of the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission, says the Kurds believe the national-level election is the best way for them to assert themselves in the new Iraq. "The Kurds think they can resolve two issues,” said Hussain. “First, participation in power, and secondly, guaranteeing the rights of Kurds in the new Iraqi constitution."


Kurds were severely oppressed during the Saddam era but gained de facto autonomous status after the 1991 uprising.


Hawrey Abdullah, a traffic police commissioner, said his people have been exploited long enough, and it is now time to win rights by voting in the National Assembly election.


“The Kurds have been waiting a very long time for the day when they can take part in the Iraqi parliament,” Abdullah said. “A big percentage of us have to vote or else we will be the losers.”


Tahir Rashid, a former peshmerga or Kurdish guerrilla fighter, insists that decades of fighting for rights pale in comparison with the upcoming election, "Eighty years of struggle and bloodshed are not as important as the day when we vote for the Kurdish list in the Baghdad parliament."


Talar Nadir is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.


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