Kurdish candidates are trying to rally support in the final hours
before Saturday's election in Iraq's three northern provinces which
constitute Kurdistan. Campaign posters dotted Kurdish cities and
candidates spoke on television in a frenetic crescendo to the electoral
TV held an electoral meeting in the closing hours of the campaign,
Friday, allowing candidates to present their platforms to an eager
Leaders of Kurdistan's two top political parties,
Massoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani also showed
campaign ads of their candidates' achievements, inaugurating dams,
gas-works, sewer projects, and hotel complexes.
A number of
independent parties are also competing in the election to determine the
composition of Kurdistan's 111-seat parliament, and its next president.
Challengers to the two main parties stand to gain seats, but appear
unlikely to gain a majority.
Kurdistan's 2.5 million eligible
voters will go to the polls, Saturday, in the provinces of Irbil,
Dahuk, and Sulaimaniyah. The head of Iraq's electoral commission, Faraj
al Haidari says that pre-voting, Thursday, by soldiers, prisoners and
hospital patients, went well.
He says that everything got off to
a good start, in a nice, peaceful atmosphere, and that the electoral
commission did everything in its power to allow citizens to enter the
polling stations and cast their ballots. There were long lines, he
notes, and both local and international observers were on hand to
monitor the voting.
Haidari also told journalists that, due to
technical complications, the electoral commission would probably need
several weeks to count all the ballots, once voting ends, Saturday
The ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk, where tensions
between Kurds, Arabs, and ethnic Turkomans continues unabated, is one
of the key issues of the campaign. Kurdish leaders want the oil-rich
city to be part of their autonomous region.
Hassan Turhan, however, insists that his group will not allow Kurdish
annexation, and expresses opposition to a proposed census that would
determine the fate of the city.
He says that the Turkoman
community is demanding changes in the proposed census in Iraq and
especially in Kirkuk. If the census is held (as proposed), he warns,
his group will boycott it, rendering it a failure.
Prime Minister Barhim Salih, who is Kurdish, told al-Arabiya TV that
the "position of Kurdish leaders towards Kirkuk is well-known,"
alluding to the fact that they have long believed that it is an
historic part of Kurdistan.
The Iraqi parliament is debating how
to divide the country's oil wealth, but has yet to come up with a law
to carve it up among the country's key ethnic and religious groups.
Kurds had originally planned to hold a referendum over a proposed
constitution for their region, as well, but opposition from the central
government in Baghdad forced them to remove the issue from ballots.