Local elections in the troubled northern state of Ninawa have seen the provincial council dominated by ethnic and religious minorities from outside the capital city. So why did Arab politicians lose their jobs?
Recent elections have seen the local government in the troubled and often controversial, northern state of Ninawa undergo a kind of revolution. Locals voted for representatives of various ethnic and religious minorities to represent them, rather than the local Arab politicians who have represented them in local government in the past.
After elections were held on June 20, in Ninawa and in Iraq's Anbar province, due to alleged security issues, Ninawa's local council is now composed mainly of Yazidis, Shabak, Christians, Kurds and Turkmen. Kurdish and Yazidi politicians won 11 seats, the Turkmen got six and the rest went to Shabak and Christians.
“The number of seats won by minorities shows the amount of popular discontent here and the clear lack of confidence in the previous provincial council,” local political scientist, Hamza Hussein, told NIQASH. The council only has three of Mosul's residents on it now. They are Atheel al-Nujaifi, who was re-elected as governor of the province, Hussein al-Abbar and Hassan al-Allaf. The other 36 are from outside Mosul and they were elected by residents in different districts.”
The newly elected council has meant that the president of the council is a Kurd, Bashar Kiki, while the council has a Turkmen – Nour ad-Din Qabalan, serving as vice-president. The Arab governor's deputy is also Kurdish, Abdul Qader Battoush, and the second deputy is Arab, the aforementioned al-Allaf.
Activist Rabea Mustafa believes that the election result came about because minorities had been driven out of the province's capital Mosul because of violence directed at them. Many of these minorities settled in other parts of Ninawa.
The most recent estimates suggest that there are around 300,000 Turkmen living in the Tal Afar district as well as in Rashidiya. Almost the same number of Yazidis live in the Sinjar and Shikhan districts and in Bashiqa and around 250,000 Shabak reside in villages north and east of Mosul. Meanwhile there are almost 200,000 Christians in places like Bashiqa, Bartala and Hamdaniya. It is hard to know how many Iraqi Kurdish live in Ninawa as they are scattered around the province but it is a significant number; some Yazidis also consider themselves Kurdish.
“There was a limited voter turn out in Mosul because of security problems and lack of confidence in the political process and the previous council,” Mustafa said. “The performance of the previous council made things worse – they were continuously divided and that impacted on the provision of basic services. So people in Mosul were frustrated.”
Additionally security conditions in areas outside of the capital city were far better than those inside the city. Candidates were able to canvas voters more easily there. However in Mosul itself, candidates were threatened and some were even killed; this led to many candidates withdrawing from campaigning, which also led to fewer seats on the new council.
Nonetheless Iraqi Kurdish politician, Bashar Kiki, the new head of the council didn't want to describe the new council as simply representing the province's minorities.
“Regardless of their ethnic or religious origins or affiliations, these council members do represent the entire province of Ninawa,” Kiki argued. “It's their responsibility to make decisions that serve the interests of the people and to supervise departments' performance. That's the oath they took during the council's first session.”
Kiki did admit though that the districts of Ninawa have been in need of representation for some time. Infrastructure and political representation had mainly centred on Mosul. However this balance was now being redressed, Kiki agreed.
No matter how the council operates over the coming year, one thing seems clear: Ninawa's minorities are desperate for better representation and they want more attention paid to their infrastructure.