Kirkuk is a province of many ethnicities and many religions. It is the most significant of the areas disputed by the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and Baghdad. Internationally, it is very important because it is the centre of Iraq’s oil industry.
According to the Iraqi Food Rations survey, around 1.35 million people live in province, with 787,000 eligible to vote on 7 March.
In Kirkuk, the campaigning style of the candidates and political entities is different to the rest of the country. Here, instead of the standard promises of providing basic services and fighting corruption, most of their slogans are about patriotism.
“Kirkuk needs Arab support that's why we decided not to boycott the election in Kirkuk,” said Muhammad Tamim, a Member of Parliament who represents the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, led by Saleh al-Mutlaq. “We oppose any attempt to let Kirkuk become part of the Kurdistan Region.
Meanwhile, Kurdish candidates, wearing traditional Peshmerga uniform, holding rallies and meeting crowds of voters, promise to return Kirkuk to the Kurdistan Region.
“We will return Kurdistan to you, whatever the cost!” declared Khalid Shwani, a young Kurdish election candidate, representing the Kurdistan Alliance List, speaking to a crowd. “Whether Kurdistan’s enemies like it or not, Kirkuk is part of the Kurdistan Region,” he continued.
But the Arab candidates insist that Kirkuk is an Iraqi city and will remain an Iraqi city under the control of Baghdad.
There have been no elections in Kirkuk since the last general elections in 2005. The January 2009 provincial council elections in all provinces under Baghdad’s administration missed Kirkuk because of ethnic disagreement.
In the 2005 provincial council elections, Kurds took 26 of the 41 seats in Kirkuk, with Turkmen and Arabs splitting the remainder. Arabs and Turkmen claim that the Kurds won the majority because so many Arabs boycotted the 2005 elections.
“We have learnt a lesson from the last election. This time we will vote with a strong enthusiasm," noted Sheikh Anwar Hassi, head of Ubed Tribe in the region.
Nevertheless, none of the ethnic groups is united. There is not a single Kurdish list, Arab list or Turkmen list. Each ethnic group has been divided into a number of splintered political alliances.
Five Kurdish entities will compete in the elections, all of them emphasising the need for a return of the disputed areas, including the controversial city and provincial capital, Kirkuk City, to Kurdistan Region.
Among the Kurds, the Kurdistan Alliance and Gorran Movement are the main competitors in Kirkuk.
Turkmen are divided between four national lists, the State of Law Coalition, headed by current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya List, the National Alliance List and the National Accord.
But according to Torhan Mufti, a Turkmen member of the Kirkuk provincial council,
“None of Turkmen parties will allow Kirkuk become part of Kurdistan Region.”
Arabs, meanwhile, are divided between around 20 political lists all of them united in the belief that Kirkuk is an Iraqi city and must be under the control of Baghdad administration.
In accordance with the Independent High Electoral Commission’s (IHEC) estimation census, close to 27,000 security elements from Iraqi security army, police forces and the local Kurdish forces of Peshmerga will secure the election process in the city of Kirkuk.
According to the IHEC prior estimations, a source close to electoral commission said “nearly 12,000 Iraqi security elements, and 13,000 police officers as well as 2,147 Peshmerga will be distributed among the election stations to secure the process in the entire area in Kirkuk.”