Tensions high in Kurdistan in run-up to elections

Less than one month remains until the parliamentary elections in Iraq, scheduled for 07 March. Campaigning began in earnest late last week. Said Barham Salih (PM of the Kurdistan Region) on his Twitter page, ‘Election campaigns launched.. festive mood in Kurdistan.’

The ‘festive’ mood has all but disappeared as unrest has gripped the region, especially in the city of Suleimaniya.

Gorran supporter holding up Gorran flag

Gorran (Change) list movement spokesman Muhammed Rahim said that anti-terror units of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) shot at Gorran supporters two nights ago. Gorran claims that three of the wounded were then kidnapped by unknown men from the hospital. Kurdish satellite channel Gali Kurdistan, related to the PUK, accused Gorran of shooting. Reports have surfaced that it was a special unit of the Asayish (security agency) and not the anti-terror unit that was responsible for the shooting.

On Sunday an office of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan (Yekgirtu) was shot at in Halabja. The office of the Gorran list in Shaqlawa was also shot at.

In Erbil, city officials cut the electricity when KNN-TV began broadcasting speeches of Gorran leaders. Later the KNN team was

Kurdistan Islamic Union

arrested and their tapes confiscated by KDP forces.

Commenting on these press freedom violations, Kurdish intellectual and writer Aso Jabar told Reporters Without Borders: “The Kurdish authorities are showing their darkest side through these acts of repression. Real democracies do not oppress their people for using the right to free speech.”

Kurdistan List

There are three major Kurdish parties: the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Gorran (Movement for Change). A fourth party, the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, has five representatives in Baghdad and draws most of its support from the Dohuk region.

The KDP and the PUK are well-established, historical parties advocating Kurdish rights. Together, they form the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan (Kurdistan List) and are currently represented in the Iraqi parliament. They also control the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdish Regional Assembly and are expected to remain united for the 2010 elections. Gorran, a splinter group of the PUK, was formed only in the run-up to the August 2009 elections for the Kurdistan regional parliament and won 25 of 111 seats. Gorran is not expected to align itself with the KDP or PUK before the elections, but observers assume that it will cooperate with them later in order to maintain a strong Kurdish voice in national politics.

Many in the region, however, are fed up and will not vote. A Kurdish friend in Kirkuk sent an e-mail to me a couple days ago in which he said: ‘If we vote or we don’t there is absolutely nothing changed. All we see every time is the same names and the same family. Even if some are not occupying any formal posts, they are still in power and enjoy the absolute authority. There has never been a change and even the so-called ‘Change’ or Gorran Movement is nothing but a chip from the old corrupted block.’

Sources:

Escalation in Suleimani Between Gorran & PUK. Curdonia Radio, 17 February 2010.

Independent journalists harassed, attacked in Kurdistan in run-up to elections. Reporters Without Borders, 16 February 2010.

Myers, Steven Lee. In Northern Iraq, a Vote Seems Likely to Split. New York Times, February 8, 2010.

Shootings in Kurdistan before Iraqi Elections. Medya News, 16 February 2010

Talabani, Barazani call for honest elections. AlSumaria, 12 February 2010.

Tensions in Suleimaniya Grow. Rudaw, 17 February 2010.

The Kurdish Parties. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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