Iraq: opposition slate charges fraud in Kurdish elections

On July 25, the day after the vote, an opposition party claimed there had been violations in the presidential and parliamentary elections in Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region. The opposition front called Goran ("Change") is seeking to shake up the political establishment in Iraq's three Kurdish-ruled provinces that have been dominated by two parties for decades. Early projections suggest the KDP and PUK retain their parliamentary majority, while the Goran list scored big in the city of Sulaimaniyah, a stronghold of the PUK led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Change is led by Nosherwan Mustafa, a former PUK insider who broke with the party.

The Shams Network, an independent Kurdish electoral observer panel, raised concerns that the ink used to mark the thumbs of voters could be easily washed off, potentially allowing someone to vote more than once. "The electoral commission did not allow observers to use their mobile phones. Therefore observers could not send reports about violations," said Hogar Chatto, a spokesman for Shams. (AlJazeera, AP, July 26)

Islamist-Communist alliance? Or is the New York Times confused?
A New York Times account of other efforts to break open the KDP-KUP duopoly notes the presidential candidacy of Ali Bapir, an Islamist who was detained for almost two years by the US military, and is (buzz-phrase alert) "suspected of ties to al-Qaeda." A more detailed account from the Kurdish Globe notes that his partisans were imprisoned and tortured by the Kurdish authorities before he laid down arms and joined the political process under an amnesty. His armed organization was the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, while his new party is the Islamic Group of Kurdistan (Komele Islami le Kurdistan). The Kurdish Globe quotes Bapir: "Our policy is that we enter into fraternity and cooperation with all Islamic groups. We seek such fraternal relations with Islamic parties and organizations, Islamist figures, and groups that follow a Salafi tradition or a Sufi or a scientific tradition. In the Komele Islami, we believe that the group must be open-minded and seek fraternity with all those who call or act for Islam. If we see a mistake, we will try to correct it through dialogue and by creating a fraternal atmosphere."

Sounds good, but when Salafists stop killing Sufis there might be a better atmosphere for "dialogue."

The Times also reports, without providing further details, that Bapir has formed an "unlikely alliance with Communists to run in the elections." Yet the Kurdish Globe reports that the region's five leftist parties—the Kurdistan Communist Party, the Kurdistan Toilers Party, the Kurdistan Independent Work Party, the Kurdistan Pro-Democratic Party and the Democratic Movement of Kurdistan People—joined in a Social Justice and Freedom List, with a platform of gender equality and secularism as well as greater rights for small farmers and the urban poor. So which Communists blocked with Bapir?

The Times also notes the foreign investment that his been flowing into this relatively peaceful enclave within Iraq—with hotels and condominium projects with names like "German Village" popping up everywhere in Sulaimaniya and the regional capital, Erbil. The Times also ambiguously states that "Sweden recently became the 16th country to establish diplomatic ties." What does this mean? The Kurdish Regional Government has thus far held back from a formal declaration of independence, so what kind of "diplomatic ties" have been established?

The Kurdish Globe also reports that Turkmen, Assyrians, Chaldeans and other ethnic minorities also ran their own slates in the Kurdish regional elections. The Gobe report states that the Kurdish pariliament has set aside five seats for the Turkmen community. However, three of the four separate Turkmen slates support appending Kirkuk to the Kurdish autonomous region—and we therefore suspect they are "satellite parties" of the KDP-PUK. They are also all listed as being against "Turkish interference." The dissident appears to be the Turkmen Independence List, which "says Turkmen are the majority in Kirkuk and that it should be an independent region." (NYT, July 25 via Assyrian Internaitonal News Agency-AINA; Kurdish Globe, July 3 via AINA)

Turkmen to boycott census in Kirkuk
Meanwhile, Turkmen political parties in Kirkuk announced that they planned to boycott Iraq's national census scheduled for October—throwing into question whether a headcount in the disputed province can resolve growing tensions there. When Iraq's constitution was drafted in 2005, the parties could not agree on who would control Kirkuk—or even whether it belongs to Tamim, Erbil or Sulaimaniya province. So the issue was put off, with Article 140 calling for a national census, followed by a referendum on the status of Kirkuk—all to be held by the end of 2007. But the census has been repeatedly delayed. Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government, warned two years ago that if "Article 140 is not implemented, then there will be a real civil war." It still hasn't been. (NYT, July 25; NYT, July 23)

See our last posts on Iraq and Kirkuk and the Kurds.

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