Upcoming elections sure to reshape Iraq

getarticleimageservlet1.jpgA young man holds posters while his colleagues attach them to a wall in Erbil. GLOBE PHOTO/Safin Hamed
By Qassim Khidhir
The Kurdish Globe

Kurds will lose a number of seats in the provincial councils of Mosul, Diyala, and Salahaddin as Sunnis extensively participate in the election, the Dawa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council compete for power, and Awakening Councils seek to win in Anbar.

Mahmoud Othman, a prominent Kurdish lawmaker in Iraqi Parliament, pointed out that the number of Kurdish seats in the provincial councils of Mosul, Diyala, and Salahaddin will be reduced since Arab Sunnis will participate in the upcoming provincial council elections on January 31.

“I don’t know how many seats Kurds will lose in these councils, but definitely the number of Kurdish seats will be decreased,” said Othman.

Arab Sunnis boycotted the 2005 elections, and as a result Kurds and Shiites dominated most of the provincial council seats.

Observers are saying that Kurds have no intention to control the Mosul, Diyala, and Salahaddin provincial councils; this was confirmed by Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani during a meeting with Arab tribal sheikhs in Erbil city. Observers note that Kurds only want to win the upcoming elections in disputed areas.

“Winning the elections in the disputed areas not only gives us seats in the provincial councils, but also shows the UN and the Iraqi government that the disputed areas are with Kurdistan Region,” said Mosul’s deputy Governor Khasro Goran, a Kurd.

The main two Kurdistan Region political parties, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) headed by Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan headed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, are heavily engaged in the election campaign in the disputed areas.

Their TV channels have stopped their normal programs and are campaigning for the election; their slogan is that all religions in Iraq can live peacefully and prosperously under the umbrella of the Kurdistani list.

When they refer to Kurdistani, they mean Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and Kakayee.

The head of the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Handren Muhammad, told the Globe that IHEC has witnessed very high registration in Baghdad, Mosul, Anbar, and Salahaddin.

“A lot of people have registered their names in these provinces to participate in upcoming elections,” said Muhammad, adding that Sunnis in these provinces learned their lesson from the 2005 boycott.

According to Muhammad, this election is more democratic than the one in 2005. Since people vote for an open list, they can vote for individual persons, not like 2005 where they were only allowed to vote for political parties.

“In this election voters can send e-mails to us and complain about the election or send evidence about fraud,” he noted. He mentioned that the paper, ink, and pen that will be used on election day are special-made for the election. And the ballot papers are printed in the same place where the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is printing its money, a UN official told the Globe.

Iraq has 18 provinces. The three Kurdistan provinces and Kirkuk will not be participating. That leaves 14– four of them largely Sunni Arab and 10 Shiite; 14, 000 candidates are competing for 440 seats.

South between Dawa and Islamic Supreme Council

As the Iraqi elections near, verbal confrontations have occurred between the Iraqi Shia Islamic Supreme Council led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and the Iraqi Dawa Party led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

During the campaign, al-Maliki continually has demanded a strong central government; he believes that provincial councils cannot survive if there isn’t a strong central government behind them.

Vice President and a leader of the Shia Islamic Supreme Council Adel Abdul Mahdi has said that al-Maliki’s government is an obstacle to the development of the southern provinces. “There is a monopoly of power in Baghdad,” Mahdi has been quoted as saying.

He toured seven Iraqi southern provinces, describing the situation in these provinces as deplorable. “Iraq can’t be promoted through one official or one ministry; it can only be developed when the constitution and law are put in practice,” said Mahdi. “A federal, united, and decentralized Iraq is the demand of Iraqi people and we can’t ignore it.”

Ali Adeeb, a leader of the Dawa Party, criticized those political parties that are demanding a decentralized system in Iraq. He noted: “The Iraqi provinces don’t have enough skill to run themselves; the Dawa Party is willing to strengthen the provincial councils in order to provide services to people, something that upsets other parties, including the Islamic Supreme Council.

Asking to give extensive powers to provincial councils is a call for the division of Iraq.”

Awakening Councils seek to win Anbar election

“Our goal is to get rid of the Iraqi Islamic Party,” Sheikh Hameed al-Hayyes, head of the Awakening Councils in Anbar province, told the “International Herald Tribune.” He added: “We will fight them with all the power we have.”

The sheikhs, many of them former insurgents, gained new wealth and prestige when they formed U.S.-backed Awakening Councils, also known as Sahwa, to fight al-Qaeda. Many were in charge of thousands of fighters paid by the U.S. They now want to use that influence to take Anbar’s 41 council seats, 18 of which are filled by Iraqi Islamic Party rank-and-file members and most of the rest by politicians allied to them.

Senior Anbar tribal Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha predicted a big win for his Sahwa. “The Anbar governor and the Iraqi Islamic Party have utterly failed to provide people with services,” Abu Risha said. “We will take over the province.” But the Iraqi Islamic Party leaders say that’s wishful thinking.

“The tribal leaders don’t have the ability to lead; they lack the presence and organization. We are sure we will win,” said Othman al-Kubaisi, a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party.

Many voters in Anbar speak well of the sheikhs and the security that they and their gunmen restored to the streets.