Elections in Kirkuk: The Kurdish Fight for the Arab Vote By RUDAW
"Kurdish candidates do not stand a chance among Arab voters who are determined to keep Kirkuk as an Iraqi city."
KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region—In the run up to this month’s parliamentary and provincial elections, Kurdish parties in Kirkuk are reaching out to the city’s Arab and Turkmen population, recruiting them as candidates and printing multilingual campaign posters. Aso Mamand, head of the local bureau of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) believes that his list has already won the trust of all ethnic groups through public services. “The leader of the PUK list will win many votes from the Arab, Turkmen, and the Assyrian-Chaldean groups of Kirkuk due to the social services he brought to their neighborhoods,” Mamand told Rudaw.
Najmaldin Karim, the current governor of Kirkuk and senior PUK member is the head of his parties list for the provincial elections. Observers believe that Kurdish parties are targeting Kirkuk’s ethnic groups because they failed to form a united list of their own. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the PUK are the two major parties in Kirkuk. But despite running on a joint list in most previous Iraqi elections, they decided to run separately in the April 30 polls due to political disagreements. Both parties are now vying for Kirkuk’s more than 841,000 eligible voters.
“Unfortunately we could not create one united Kurdish list of candidates,” says Mamand. “However, we are not going to base our expectations on the results of the 2010 elections and we do expect to win more seats this time around.” Meanwhile representatives of smaller parties in Kirkuk think that the KDP-PUK split aside, the two parties are likely to lose many voters due to their poor political record in the multiethnic province. “The PUK and the KDP have bored the people of Kirkuk with their election campaigns,” says Suad Ghazi, the Communist Party candidate for the Iraqi parliament. “They have monopolized six Kurdish seats among themselves and would not allow that number to increase if it is not in their own interest.”
Winning the votes of non-Kurdish groups isn’t going to be easy. The Kurds have strong Arab groups to contend with, among them the Arabic Coalition of Muhammad al-Tamimi, Iraq’s current Minister of Education, who said recently that he has “allocated one billion Iraqi Dinars for the election campaign,” Al-Tamimi said that Kurdish candidates do not stand a chance among Arab voters who are determined to keep Kirkuk as an Iraqi city. “We will increase our votes though our slogans, especially when we tell the Arabs that Kirkuk is an Iraqi city,” he said. “This will ruin the dreams of those who claim that the Arab voters will vote for the non-Arabic lists.”
Despite Kirkuk’s large Kurdish population the province’s Arab candidates present a formidable force. In 2010 they won more than 211,000, giving them six seats in parliament. “We will protect the unity in Kirkuk this time despite the various threats facing us, especially the lives of our candidates,” Abd al-Rahman Murshid al-Assi, leader of the Arab Front in Kirkuk told Rudaw. Al-Assi said that so far there have been four assassination attempts against Arab candidates in Kirkuk.
According to Arshad Salihi, the leader of the Turkmen Front, Turkmen voters are more vulnerable to the Kurdish campaign than their Arab neighbors. “The candidates of the Kurdish groups are visiting the Turkmen neighborhoods and promise to bring social services in return for their votes,” said Salihi. “We believe our votes are in danger this time.”