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.’


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.


‘Gorran’ speaks out on corruption in Kurdistan

‘Corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency.’

Muhammed Rahim. Gorran

Muhammed Rahim, Gorran

Talk of corruption in Kurdistan has been going on for years.  Fighting the endemic corruption though is an uphill battle.   Says Mohammed Rahim, senior member of the Gorran (Change) List, that, in fact, one of the main goals of the Gorran movement is to ‘destroy corruption.’ Corruption has led the region into its current state and the people of Kurdistan are disturbed and deeply concerned, he says.

In a recent interview with AKnews, Rahim, spelled out what he feels are the most serious internal threats to Kurdistan. They are corruption, lack of social justice, and limited social services.  Corruption at the highest levels has led to the other ‘threats’, such as lack of pure water, limited electricity, few newly paved roads, and a dearth of school buildings.

The rhetoric over corruption and other issues is coming to a head and threatens internal stability.  No one wants to relinquish the power and money of elected office.  Rahim predicts increased tension in the run up to the March 7 national elections in Iraq, with negative impacts on the political reputation of Kurdistan.  But, he says, ‘Gorran will the model to be imitated by other political entities.’

Gorran won 25 of 111 seats in the July 2009 Kurdish Parliamentary elections, and defeated the PUK/KDP coalition in Suleimaniya.

Jumping on the corruption bandwagon, last week Al-Jazeera ran a 24-minute segment on its ‘Inside Iraq’ programme that delved into the issue of corruption in Kurdistan.  Host Jassim al-Azzawi interviews Mohammed Ihsan, KRG representative in Baghdad, and Kamal Majid, professor emeritus at University of Cardiff in the UK, a feisty political exile who doesn’t hold back.  Click image below to go to YouTube video of the show.


Salih, Mohammed. Iraq: Will elections being stability, or more turmoil? Tehran Times, 13 January 2010.

‘Change’ in exclusive interview with AKnews.  AKnews, 02 February 2010.

Opposition movement becomes political party.  Kurdish Aspect, 20 January 2010.

Kirkuk Deal on Saturday?


Cartoon by Qassem H.J. who is a newspaper cartoonist working in Iraq. The cartoon above appeared in the NYTimes on 19 August 2008.

The absolute deadline they said was yesterday. But the vote on Kirkuk has been postponed again…now until Saturday. Statements via Twitter and blog postings suggest an ‘acceptable’ resolution might pass this weekend. Four competing proposals have been ‘boiled down to a single text,’ said Kurdish deputy Khaled Chwani.

Another Kurdish MP, Mahmud Othman, said ‘up until now nothing has been agreed, but Saturday afternoon we hope to reach a deal and include it on the agenda.’ Othman posted yesterday on his Twitter page that ‘a solution for Kirkuk seems in sight. We are putting the final touches on a deal fair for all & hopefully pass the law on Saturday.’

AlSumaria reported that Kurdistan Alliance MP Abdul Bari Zebari told Al Hayat Newspaper that his party has accepted the legal committee’s proposal over the elections law which gives Kirkuk a special status.

According to AKnews, Tania Tal’at, another MP on the Kurdistan Alliance List, says that parliamentary blocs have reached a preliminary agreement to hold elections adopting the 2009 voter registry.’ She also suggested that they ‘will soon reach an agreement.’

Muhammed Tamim, a legislator from Kirkuk with the Arab Front for National Dialogue, said the current proposal has received support from Arabs and Turkomen, but no response yet has been given from the Kurdistan Alliance List.

However, the head of the Iraqi electoral commission, Faraj al-Haidari, announced yesterday that it is now too late to organise a general election as planned on 16 January after repeated delays by MPs in adopting an electoral law.

The final word on the timing of the election rests with parliament, which meets again this weekend. MPs may vote to push the date back towards the constitutional deadline of 31 January 2010.

MPs have long been deadlocked over the status of Kirkuk. At issue is ethnic representation and control of the city. While Kurds favour using current voter registration lists and keeping Kirkuk as one constituency, Arabs and Turkomen want 2004 or 2005 records to be used, or for Kirkuk to be split into two constituencies.

In the 1957 census it was estimated that Kurds made up 48.3% of the population in Kirkuk, Arabs 28.2%, and Turkomen 21.4%. The rest were Assyrian-Chaldean Christians and other smaller minority groups. Last spring the percentages were estimated at Kurdish 52%, Arab 35%, and Turkomen only 12%.

As a compromise measure the tentative agreement will assign one extra seat to the Arabs and Turkomen and the most recent voter registration records will be used. The proposal that was hammered out also suggests making the results of the election provisional, subject to an examination of the voter rolls to ensure accuracy.

If population counts from 2004 or 2005 were to be used, as Arab and Turkomen had wanted, percentages would favour these groups.

Recently elected Kurdish Prime Minister, Barham Salih, said back in 2004 of Kirkuk ‘We [Kurds] have a claim to Kirkuk rooted in history, geography and demographics.’

Ethnic politics and Iran’s election

Today there is relative quiet on the streets of Iran.  Protests had spread from the capital to Esfahan, Tabriz, Shiraz, as far east as Sistan-Baluchestan, and as far west as cities in and around the larger Kurdish region such as Orumiyeh and Kermanshah.  According to sources inside Iran, there was unrest at the universities in Sistan-Baluchestan, Kermanshah and Mazandaran.  In Kermanshah, Iranian security forces raided the university and dormitory and several were reportedly injured and taken into custody. In Orumiyeh, a rally of 3,000 people was held before Iranian security forces attacked the rally and at least 2 people were killed.

Election results by province (source: irantracker.org).  Click for larger image.

Election results by province (source: irantracker.org). Click for larger image.

Some Kurdish cities, such as Sanandaj, were reported to have boycotted the elections altogether. An anonymous source that belonged to the boycotting group said, “It is not an election or choice to choose between bad and worse. We want a regime change.”

Tweets from several sources report that in Marivan (Kordestan province) people attacked government offices and burned portraits of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad.

Since becoming president in 2005, Ahmadinejad’s policies promote subversion of regional identities in favour of a unified revolutionary, Islamic identity. Tehran has been reluctant to continue granting increased regional autonomy. Heightened Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) activity in the peripheral areas, particularly in the South-eastern region dominated by the Baloch people, and the North-western Kurdish areas, has provoked a series of backlashes against the regime.

The discourse on ethnic politics has drastically expanded during this past election, as an attempt to address minority issues. According to news reports on the campaign, Mousavi campaigned heavily in the periphery provinces such as Azerbaijan, Khuzestan, Kermanshah, Mazandaran and Golestan and was a popular candidate.  Studies on voting behaviour in Iran suggest that peripheral groups are most likely to vote for reformist candidates. These voters respond not only to ethnic ties, but also to active campaigning.  As seen in the election results province map, this theory is, to some extent, borne out. Ahmadinejad’s strongest support came from the central and eastern regions of the country; the least diverse areas.  This too is where he had the most support in the 2005 election.

The three candidates who ran against Ahmadinejad (Mousavi, Karoubi and Rezai) presented Iran’s Guardian Council with a list of election irregularities. They included the exclusion of their representatives from polling stations and counts; shortages of ballot papers in opposition strongholds; packing of electoral committees with Ahmadinejad supporters; vote buying; improper use of state resources and media; and using the identity cards of dead people to cast ballots.

Iranian government reports the following results for the four Kurdish provinces in the NW of the country:


Iran map: ethnic groups

Iran map: ethnic groups

Ahmadinejad: 65%
Mousavi: 31%
Rezai: 2%
Karoubi: 2%

Ahmadinejad: 59%
Mousavi: 39%
Rezai: 1%
Karoubi: <1%

Ahmadinejad: 53%
Mousavi: 44%
Rezai: 1%
Karoubi: 2%

Ahmadinejad: 47%
Mousavi: 50%
Rezai: 1%
Karoubi: 2%

For a city by city breakdown of election results click here.


Analysis: Protests in Iran spread to major cities in Kurdistan, Kurdish Media, 19 June 2009

Fletcher, Martin. The evidence that points to Ahmadinejad stealing Iranian election, Times Online, 18 June 2009.

Special Report: Elections Iran 2009, UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization), 18 June 2009

Barham Salih and the upcoming KRG elections

Dr Barham Salih

Dr Barham Salih

One of Iraq’s two deputy prime ministers, Barham Salih, is expected to resign within days to lead the main Kurdish bloc in elections in the autonomous Kurdish region.  Salih, born in 1960, is one of two deputies for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a member of the country’s Shiite Arab majority.  Salih is deputy for the Kurds and Rafa al-Essawi for the Sunni Arabs.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Kurdish regional president Mesûd Barzanî and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, in which Salih is a leading figure, have agreed to appoint Barham Salih as Prime Minister of the KRG if their coalition list wins the upcoming Kurdistan elections.  The news was relayed by Fu’ad Ma’sum, the head of the Kurdish bloc in the Parliament.

The Kurdish Alliance (KDP and PUK) is strongly expected to win in the upcoming elections on 25 July.  If Salih becomes KRG Prime Minister, he would replace Nêçîrvan Barzanî, Mesûd Barzanî’s nephew.

Salih has been seen by Western diplomats as one of the most progressive and professional members of the Iraqi government, in which he has been a central part of a recent push to attract foreign investment to the war-torn country.

Salih was elected to the Iraqi National Assembly in December 2005 as part of the Kurdistan Alliance list. Salih also chairs a committee on oil and energy policy.  He was Prime Minister of the PUK region of Iraqi Kurdistan from 2001-2004. While working as an engineering consultant, he also served as spokesman for the PUK in London and later in Washington.

Dr Salih has a Twitter site and frequently ‘tweets’ about his activities.


Iraq deputy PM to quit to take up Kurdish role, AlArab Online, 06 June 2009

Deputy PM to quit to take up Kurdish region role, The Jordan Times, 07 June 2009

Talabani’s brother-in-law announces candidacy

Halo Ibrahim Ahmed (photo: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat)

Helo Ibrahim Ahmed (photo: Al-Sharq Al-Awsat)

President Jalal Talabani’s brother-in-law, Helo Ibrahim Ahmed, has posted his candidacy for the Kurdistan Regional presidency to compete with current president Massoud Barazani in elections slated for 25 July 2009.

Helo Ibrahim Ahmad, brother of Talabani’s wife, is the secretary general of the Progress Party, which he founded in November 2008 after being dismissed from the PUK.

Ahmed was born in 1951 and left Kurdistan in 1976 to live in Europe.   He earned a doctorate in computer science at the Technical Institute in Stockholm and returned to the Kurdistan region in 1991.

Last year Ahmed caused an uproar in journalistic and human rights circles after threatening to kill a journalist who he said insulted his late father in an article.   In an e-mail communication Ahmed wrote to journalist Nabaz Goran on 28 February 2008 in which he said, ‘[I will] kill you, [Goran] even if I have one day left of my life.’

Hawlati’s editor-in-chief Abid Aref said of Ahmed’s comments in response to Goran’s article were ‘an attack on freedom of expression and democracy in Kurdistan.’

The candidate’s platform calls for making the Kurdistan Region a model of human rights and peaceful coexistence in the Middle East, applying the principles of justice and democracy while fighting against corruption.


Talabani brother-in-law runs for elections, Kerkuk.net, 20 May 2009

Hama-Saeed, M. Death threat attack on ‘Freedom of Expression’ in Kurdistan, ICR No. 248, 10 March 1008

رئيس حزب التقدم أول مرشح لمنصب رئاسة إقليم كردستان , Aswat al-Iraq, 19 May 2009

Elections on 25 July says Barzani

Iraqi Kurds to elect new parliament on July 25
05 May 2009
Reuters UK

by Shamal Aqrawi

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region has set an election for its regional parliament for July 25, a senior official said Tuesday.

barzani_elections“I call (on candidates) to understand and respect political diversity … Political groups have the freedom to campaign but not to defame others,” Massoud Barzani, president of the northern Kurdistan region, told the regional parliament.

Kurdish officials have blamed budgetary and technical problems for a delay in holding the election which was originally planned for May 19.

For years, Kurdistan has been tightly controlled by two parties headed by Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Minority Kurds, who were persecuted by former leader Saddam Hussein, were outside Baghdad’s control in the 1990s and enjoy autonomy over domestic affairs under the Iraqi constitution enacted after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam in 2003.

Barzani called for a second election to take place immediately after the parliamentary poll to choose a president for the region. The president is currently chosen by lawmakers.

Barzani, Kurdish president since 2005, said he would not stand for another term unless this second vote was held.

A rift has grown over the past year between Kurdish leaders and the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad as the two sides struggle for control of oil resources and disputed territories.

Iraq is due to hold an election for its national parliament, in which Kurds have a major voice, at the end of 2009.

[Reuters article]