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Claim and Counterclaim in Kirkuk

Yaseen Taha
The preliminary results declared by the Elections Commission came as a big surprise in Kirkuk, the control of which is disputed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.
18.03.2010  |  Kirkuk

Contrary to all predictions, and after counting nearly 70 percent of votes in Karuk, the Commission officially declared that the Iraqiya List, consisting of the city’s Arabs and Turkmen, leads the Kurdistan Coalition List, which is comprised of the two largest parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party and and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

According to these results, Iraqiya won 137,158 votes with the Kurdistan Coalition just 262 votes behind with 136,896.

Voting is so close, it is possible that seats will be divided evenly between the two coalitions, with each taking six of the governorate’s 12 seats.

Kurds have not yet recognised the election results in Kirkuk and the Kurdistan Coalition’s candidate there, Khaled Shawani, accused the Iraqiya of vote-rigging and fraud, demanding the cancellation by the commission of Iraqiya’s votes won through the alleged fraud.

Shawani said that loudspeakers of mosques were used to encourage people to vote and added that the turnout in al-Zab, al-Abbasi, al-Riad sub-districts and al-Houija District reached 93 percent, which he found unbelievable. The irregularities he pointed to all favoured Iraqiya.

Ala Talabani, another Kurdistan Coalition candidate in Kirkuk said that by 16 March her list had submitted more than 40 notices of appeal against instances of fraud committed by the Iraqiya to the Elections Commission.

“We will not be silent about the fraud committed by the Iraqiya and we will keep submitting appeals and lodge complaints against it to the Commission,” she promised, continuing: “I am certain that many Iraqiya votes will be cancelled because of the irregularities and we will come first in the remaining ballots that were not counted.”

However, 141 members of the press watched the elections in Kirkuk on 7 March and nearly 2,000 local and international elections monitors from the UN, the American and Turkish embassies and a British NGO observed polling in 230 polling stations. Turnout in Kirkuk reached 73 percent.

Iraqiya counter-accused its Kurdish opponents of fraud. Arshid Al-Salihi, a Turkmen candidate for Iraqiya, said:

“Iraqiya has proof that a number of ballots cast in favour of Iraqiya were thrown away in the garbage. We have managed to record these instances and lodged a complaint to the Commission in Baghdad.”

Al-Salihi, who won the highest number of votes in the List according to the preliminary results (38,690 votes), added: “Any candidate who will win by fraud will be a useless MP in the next parliament.”

Firhad Talbani, a representative of the Electoral Commission, who has run the Kirkuk branch since October 2005, said that the Commission has specific ground rules to administer the election process and he pointed out that each entity taking part in the elections has had 42 hours after the closing of ballot boxes to submit appeals.

“According to the information we obtained the voting rate in Arab areas were high and anyone complaining about that can submit an appeal. We have registered around 200 complaints and all these complaints were referred to the Commission's Head Office in Baghdad in order to conduct the necessary investigations and take the appropriate measures.”

Voting in Kirkuk became the focus of attention inside and outside Iraq since this governorate has the largest oil reserves in the world, in addition of being one of the key areas disputed between Baghdad and Kurdistan Region. It is the center of the political conflict between Kurds and Arabs and the Kurdistan Coalition List demands the cessation of the governorate to the Kurdistan Region while Arabs and Turkmen insist that it remains under the control of the central government in Baghdad.

In this election, for the first time, Kurdish lists were not united, with the Change Movement (Goran) competing with the Kurdish Coalition for Kurdish votes. The Kurdistan Coalition lost over 45,000 votes to other Kurdish lists. Goran took nearly 23,000 votes, while the Kurdish Islamic Union took a further 17,000. Neither party, however, reached the electoral threshold, a portion of the total votes required for a list or party to win a seat.

“These votes are lost to the Kurdish cause,” complained Ala Talabani. “They will not be counted and were it not for these votes, we would have been comfortably in first position.”

Awat Mohammed Amin, the Change List’s president, refuted Talabani’s claims that his list was responsible for a Kurdish defeat in Kirkuk.

“I refute the claim that smaller parties in Kirkuk caused Iraqiya’s victory,” he argued. “28 entities competed in Kirkuk and only five were Kurdish. Iraqiya stood against 21 Arab and Turkmen rivals. There are also no guarantees that the Kurdistan Coalition would have won the votes my party took.”

Nonetheless, in contrast to the Change Movement’s standpoint, the Kurdish Islamic Union withdrew the 30 appeals it submitted to the Elections Commission to avoid taking more votes away from the Kurdistan Coalition.

“Our purpose was to maintain the percentage achieved by the Kurds,” explained Rebwar Sayed Cole, a representative of the Kurdish Islamic Union.

“We in Kirkuk suffer from national problems and also problems related to our administrative borders. We need to take a unified stand and leave party interests aside.”

Arabs in Kirkuk believe that their success at the polls was down to effective mobilisation of their votes, with no question of any vote-rigging. All the prominent Arab figures competing in the governorate united behind the Iraqiya list and actively promoted its national program, which advocates keeping Kirkuk under the administration of the central government in Baghdad.

“Everyone who loses in elections accuses their rivals of fraud,” said Irshad Al-Salihi, an Iraqiya candidate. He continued to explain what he thought were the real reasons for his list’s success in Kirkuk.

“We underlined the principle of coexistence, peace and patriotism and that is why we got such broad support in Kirkuk.”

With around 800,000 votes being counted in Kirkuk, people continue to await the final results impatiently, not least the 499 candidates competing. Votes from overseas and other special votes continue to be counted. Claim and counter-claim will continue for some time, particularly with the stakes so high in the governorate.