Niqash met Ibrahim Hassan Bajalan to discuss these issues.
Niqash: Could you please explain the reasons behind your request for the election postponement?
Bajalan: We demanded the postponement of elections for four months because we want these elections to succeed and we want to guarantee their integrity. On the one hand, the security and humanitarian situation is unstable and is not adequate for holding elections. On the other hand, the government has not yet fulfilled any of its promises with regards to solving the refugee crisis, compensating them and allocating government jobs for their sons. This is why we have demanded the postponement of elections, as has occurred in Kirkuk province, until a solution is reached. There are 26,000 displaced Shiite families from Diyala. Only 1,000 families have been able to return to their regions and most of these families did not receive the compensation allocated to them by the government. There are 8,000-10,000 homes which belong to these families that have been destroyed and their owners are suffering a tragic economic situation. This means that a large segment will be deprived of their election right. We believe that elections should not be held without the participation of all Diyala’s components and entities; they should not be limited to one sect.
Niqash: Do you mean the Sunni parties?
Niqash: Do you have enough time to postpone the election at this late stage?
Bajalan: We informed the Independent High Electoral Commission [IHEC] office in Baghdad that it is impossible to hold provincial elections and we are still waiting for a reply.
Niqash: Do you expect a postponement?
Bajalan: The IHEC should take our demands seriously. Security threats are the main factor behind the failure of elections. How can voters cast their votes while the Bashaer al-Khair operation is ongoing, especially knowing that only a few Shiites in Diyala will be able to participate compared to the large number of voters in support of Sunnis and Baathists?
Niqash: What if your demands are not answered?
Bajalan: The elections will not then be legitimate because the result will be known in advance.
Niqash: Do you fear that polling stations will be targeted by armed groups if elections are held in Diyala?
Bajalan: Diyala is al-Qaeda’s main stronghold. We believe that the success of the law enforcement plan in Baghdad cannot be achieved if al-Qaeda is not defeated in Diyala. We also believe that armed groups will be able to regain their power if our demands for launching wide-scale security operations in areas controlled by these groups are not met. Fears of attacks on polling centers are one of the reasons behind our call for postponing elections. On the security level, Diyala is currently not prepared to hold elections.
Niqash: During the previous elections some Shiite parties accused the Mujahidee Khalq of supporting candidates opposing the new political system. Do you expect that the Diyala-based Iranian organization will play a similar role in the forthcoming election?
Bajalan: I don’t think so because the organization currently doesn’t have any influence.
Niqash: What are the reasons behind the recent arrests of district officials? Is there any relation between these arrests and the election?
Bajalan: Regrettably, security forces and U.S. troops are carrying out arrest campaigns against officials and managers of districts opposed to terrorism, without consulting the council or asking its opinion. They arrest them without any consideration of the fact that they are elected representative. Unfortunately, arrests are carried out on malicious charges; they arrest the person, investigate him and then release him because there is not enough evidence against him. I don’t think that these arrests have anything to do with elections. They are carried out according to a well-studied intelligence methodology; someone falsely accuses an official and security forces arrest him after raiding his house, destroying its furniture and confiscating his official papers. These acts remind us of Saddam’s policies.
Niqash: There are accusations that Kurdish parties are turning the disputed Khanaqin district into a purely Kurdish district by deporting Arabs. Is this true?
Bajalan: I think that there is some exaggeration with regards to the deportation of Arabs in Khanaqin; the aim is to incite ethnic sensitivities. Kurds represent 90% of the district’s population and they do not need to turn the district into a purely Kurdish one. There are thousands of Kurdish victims of Saddam’s displacement policy since 1974 who have returned to their regions, homes and regained their property. Accordingly, some Arab families from al-Dulaim and al-Sameraeyeen tribes returned to the areas they originally came from. Arab families who were originally from the district are still living there and are enjoying their full rights.
I would like to mention the agreements concluded by the Iraqi parties in more than one summit held by the Iraqi opposition in London and Salahuddin, confirming that Khanaqin is a part of Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as negotiations between the former government and Kurdish parties in 1991 confirming the Kurdish nature of Khanaqin. At that time, Kurdish parties refused to accept Saddam’s offer giving half of Khanaqin district to the Kurds and the other half to the government.