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Kirkuk\'s political parties staking future on coalitions

Yaseen Taha
Kirkuk was deprived of participation in last year’s provincial elections but it is already gearing up for the national elections in March, as the region’s many political groupings begin to court one another and…
24.01.2010  |  Kirkuk

27 coalitions in Kirkuk are competing for 12 of the Iraqi parliament’s 325 seats. While many politicians argue that the high number of participating lists in the election is proof of Iraq’s democratic transformation, others believe the multiplicity of parties will only confuse voters.

Most political groupings in Kirkuk Province plan to participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections by joining larger political blocs, enabling them to win seats in the Iraqi parliament.

In the 2005 elections, most Turkmen parties joined forces and were still able to win just one seat. But today these parties are members of still larger political lists and blocs. The Turkmen Islamic party is part of the State of Law coalition headed up by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while the Turkmen Front has joined the Iraqiyoun coalition. The Turkmeneli Political Party, the Shiite Turkmen Movement and Fawzi Akram joined the Sadrist bloc of the National Alliance headed by Ammar al-Hakeem while the Justice Party is now part of the Tawafuq Front.

Dr. Turhan Mufti, one of the leading members of the Turkmen Front, said that “the Front’s programs and slogans will look only to the interests of the Turkmen people who will never allow the city to be annexed to the Kurdistan Region.”

Kirkuk is argued over more than any other city in Iraq. Arabs and Turkmen want it to be annexed by central government, while Kurds want to annex it to the Kurdistan region.

The city itself, sitting 250 kilometers north of Baghdad, sits in an oil-rich region inhabited by Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and even Christians. Most of the Arab population is concentrated in Hawija District and areas that skirt it. The other two districts, Dibis and Daquq, have a Kurdish majority while Taza, to the south of the city of Kirkuk, is inhabited by a Turkmen majority.

Arshad Saleh, the main candidate of the Turkmen Front in Kirkuk, said that “despite the fact that we are joining many lists we all agree never to abandon the rights of Turkmen.”

Tahseen Kahiya, a member of the Islamic Union’ political bureau and the party’s candidate in national elections, said that he does not expect negative fallout from the growing trend for Turkmen to join other lists because there is a good understanding between the two sides, which will continue even after the elections.

According to Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) statistics, the population of Kirkuk province is around 1,343,000. 787,000 are expected to participate in the election, at which they can vote for 27 different political entities, one of them an independent candidate. Firhad Talabani, the head of IHEC’s office in Kirkuk, told Niqash that “there are 299 electoral centers in the province. 184 are in the city center and 115 are in the different districts and regions of Kirkuk province.”

Kurdish parties have also joined a number of lists but most have chosen to remain with Kurdish lists. The biggest of these is the Kurdistan Alliance, led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Kurdistan’s regional president Masoud al-Barazani (from the PUK and KDP, respectively).

The Change Movement, the major rival to Talabani’s party, has opted to participate in an independent “Change” list. The two Islamic parties in Kurdistan, the Islamic Group and the Islamic Union, also have opted to participate in and independent lists.

“Kirkuk’s Castle” is another list participating in the March elections. The list is headed up by a Kurdish celebrity and is made up of a mix of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Christians. Its main slogan is “Kirkuk belongs to the people of Kirkuk” and it calls for Kirkuk’s 1957 borders to be officially recognized. Its electoral program is focused on improving security, providing employment opportunities and fighting corruption.

Shirzad Fateh, a spokesman for the party, said that “according to an opinion poll, more than 90% of the people in Kirkuk are unhappy with the province’s administration. They believe that this administration failed to live up to expectations and did not fulfill its responsibilities.”

Ali Salie, head of the Change and Renewal List, had been in charge of an independent Kurdish list but has now withdrawn from the elections. In a press conference he explained his decision by saying that his withdrawal was carried out “to serve the Kurdish people and in order to prevent confusion among Kurdish voters.”

Arab parties in the region have two joined bigger lists like the State Law List of al-Maliki, the National Coalition of Ammar al-Hakeem, the Iraqi list of Iyad Allawi, the Tawafuq of the Islamic Party or medium-sized lists like Iraq Unity, the Kirkuk Iraqi Front, the National Arab bloc and the list of Ismail al-Hadidi, deputy mayor in the city of Kirkuk.

Muhammad Khalil al-Jibouri, spokesman for the Iraqi Republican Group, said his party will participate in the elections as part of the Iraqi list headed by Allawi. Al-Jibouri complained that the number of Arab lists “will confuse voters.” He stressed that Kirkuk is an Iraqi city, before adding: “we are facing a huge challenge and I am afraid that our voters will be confused and so we will achieve nothing. We must reveal the true nature of those parties which claim to represent Arabs but which we know to have separate agendas and sources of funding.”

Assyrians also have their own lists ready for the election in Kirkuk province and believe the high number of lists involved to be a positive development. Adwar Orha, a member of the Assyrian Party and currently deputy governor of Kirkuk, told Niqash that the existence of many lists is proof of democratic practices because any person who finds it in himself to stand can nominate himself. “The big number of lists is the best indication of diversity and of the level of understanding and intellectualism among the citizens,” Orha said.