Accessibility links

Breaking News

Kurdish Candidates in Iraq Campaign in Final Hours before Election

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 campaign.

Kurdish TV held an electoral meeting in the closing hours of the campaign, Friday, allowing candidates to present their platforms to an eager electorate.

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 night.

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.

Tukoman politician 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.

Iraq's Deputy 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.

The 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.