Kurdistan’s ‘Change’ Claims Advance in Sulaimaniya; US Withdrawal From Iraq Could be Affected by Kurdish-Arab Conflict

On Sunday, the Change List in the Kurdistan Regional Government elections made the startling claim that it had won in Sulaimaniya, a long time stronghold of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of aging Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. Noshirvan Mustafa, the leader of Change, broke with the PUK two years ago, alleging corruption and abuse of human rights. (Mustafa’s first name is spelled a lot of different ways in the wire services because it is Persian but most reporters based in Iraq are used to Arabic, so they transliterate out of that language).

Presidential candidate Halo Ibrahim Ahmed of the rival Progress List, who is challenging incumbent Massoud Barzani, also alleges corruption in the running of Iraqi Kurdistan.

McClatchy reports two narratives about the election. One, from the Kurdistan Alliance establishment, claims 80 percent turnout and free, happy voters. The Change List charged that the turnout was more like 55 percent and that there were abuses such as pressure at the voting booths, canvassing around them, and Peshmerga soldiers trying to vote multiple times.

Reuters has more on the opposition’s allegations of poll violations.

If the Change List were to capture a significant number of seats in the 111-member Kurdistan Regional Government parliament, it could have an impact at the margins on the way the confederacy is governed. But the likelihood is that the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani and Talabani’s PUK will continue to run the place jointly, and Barzani will retain all the extensive prerogatives of the presidency.

The NYT reports that Gorran is hoping for some 45 seats in the 111-member parliament but that outside observers peg their likely share as about a third. That is an earthquake in Kurdistan politics, even so. So Kurds worry that Baghdad might exploit internal differences among the Kurds to assert greater influence in the northern confederacy.

Aljazeera English has video on controversies over the election procedure among Iraqi Kurds abroad:

Analysts in China, which has recently had some ethnic violence itself, worry that Arab-Kurdish conflicts over places like Kirkuk in Iraq’s north could destabilize the region. (Note to American readers: such a conflagration would be highly likely to draw the US military right back into Iraq on a large scale and derail Obama’s withdrawal timeline.)

When the dust settles from the election, the issues left over regarding Kurdistan’s constitution and its relationship with Arab Iraq will come to the fore. These can be guessed at if we consider this piece from a couple of weeks ago, translated from the PUK press by the USG Open Source Center:

Iraqi Kurdish editorial blames ‘enemies’ for delay of vote on constitution
Kurdistani Nuwe
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Document Type: OSC Translated Text . . .

Iraqi Kurdish editorial blames “enemies” for delay of vote on constitution

Text of article by editor-in-chief Kawa Muhammad entitled “The regional constitution”, published by Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) newspaper Kurdistani Nuwe on 15 July

The Independent High Electoral Commission in Iraq (IHEC) has finally announced that it cannot hold a referendum on the (Kurdistan Region) constitution on 25 July. Although the possibility was already there that owing to the lack of sufficient time, the IHEC could not make necessary preparations for the referendum, the announcement coincided with US Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit to Iraq – his visit and its agenda have created lots of debate in Iraq.

As far as the Kurdistan Region is concerned, the sandstorm was not the only obstacle to his Arbil visit, which forced him to speak to (Iraqi) President (Jalal) Talabani and (Kurdistan Region) President (Mas’ud) Barzani on the phone. It seems opponents of the regional constitution had an effect. How?

Some Iraqi parties and groups which oppose the idea of Kurdistan having its own constitution, along with some chauvinistic groups and individuals as well as pressures from regional states, all have had an impact on Iraqi Prime Minister (Nuri) al-Maliki to seek a suitable opportunity to obstruct Kurdistan’s constitution. Thus, he exploited Biden’s visit to convince him sway Kurdish leaders from passing the constitution under the pretext that it might restrict solving the pending problems between Bagdad and Arbil. We should be aware that the real reason behind these pressures and pretexts is their fear that Kurdistan might become even stronger if it were to have own constitution, as well as rights enshrined in the Iraqi constitution, and that this might strengthen Kurdistan’s political and constitutional will and establish an independent Kurdish state in future. Only this and nothing else is the core of the issue.

It is appropriate to concentrate on those internal individuals and parties in the Kurdistan Region who were against the constitution recently and tell them: Dear brothers the same constitution that you said it would create a dictator and did not define Kurdistan Region’s borders the same constitution made Kurdish enemies hysteric as it strengthens the Kurdish nation’s roots and increases its political options. Thus, I tell you do not make the rejection of the referendum your achievement, because this is not an “achievement” to be proud of.

(Description of Source: Al-Sulaymaniyah Kurdistani Nuwe in Kurdish — daily newspaper published by Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK))’

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