Kurdish intra-party struggle to win disputed areas

May 9, 2018 at 1:09 pm

Kirkuk, 7 March 2010, a number of Kurdish voters celebrate after voting in Iraqi parliamentary elections, with waiving Kurdish flag in one of the streets of Kirkuk. Photo: Metrography Agency

Kirkuk, 7 March 2010, a number of Kurdish voters celebrate after voting in Iraqi parliamentary elections, with waiving Kurdish flag in one of the streets of Kirkuk. Photo: Metrography Agency On March 7th, 2010 Iraq held national parliamentary elections. Photo by Hawre Khalid/Metrography

Shorsh Khalid – Kirkuk Now

Shorsh Kahlid

Shorsh Khalid

In the disputed areas, Kurdish parties fear of losing a huge portion of their votes. The developments of 16 October 2017, the independence referendum, withdrawal of security forces, lack of administrative authority, and their internal chaotic condition, are major reasons which might well lower the votes of the powerful Kurdish parties.

The two ruling parties, Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP] and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK] swayed Kurdish votes in these areas in their favor in the last three elections. However, some of their votes might go well to their new but strong Kurdish rivals.

What tests the weight of Kurdish political parties in the disputed areas this time is their own weaknesses and strengths.

Kirkuk Province

The rivalry in Kirkuk is over 12 seats. Among Kurdish parties, PUK is expected to win the majority of Kurdish votes.

The strength of PUK in Kirkuk is its large popular base in the province, compared to other provinces of the Kurdistan region. Many among its supports have family members within PUK armed forces, or relatives killed while in the ranks of the party.

The party has an armed force, with a huge role in the Islamic State war in the province over the last four years. In the last three elections, the voters in the province have always chosen those political parties which have affiliated armed forces.

The major weakness of PUK is the developments of 16 October 2017

However, the weakness of PUK is the withdrawal of their peshmerga and security forces and Asayish without a fight when the federal forces advanced on the province on 16 October 2017.

PUK rivals consider this as ‘treason’ and use it in the campaign against it, which influences the voters to some extent.

Lack of a clear stance over the independence referendum is another weakness of PUK. The party’s leadership were opposed to the process until the last minute, but some affiliates were secretly supporting the idea in PUK’s Kirkuk headquarters. However, the leadership decided to support the process one day before it was held without referring to their popular base, members, and affiliates.

The most prominent figure of PUK in the province, Najmadeen Karim, former governor, does not support the elections and considers the city to be ‘occupied’, which adds to PUK’s weaknesses. From a total of 209 thousand votes of PUK in the province, Kareem was able to win 150 thousand votes alone.

Kirkuk, April 2014, former governor of Kirkuk and one of the leaders of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Najmadeen Karim among voters of his party on a street of the city. Photo: Metrography Agency

Kirkuk, April 2014, former governor of Kirkuk and one of the leaders of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Najmadeen Karim among voters of his party on a street of the city. Photo: Metrography Agency

Having trouble among the components of Kirkuk is not in favor of PUK. According to the statistics of the electoral body of the party, around 20 thousand voters from other components voted for PUK in 2014 election. However, the referendum and the issue of raising Kurdish flag over Kirkuk impacts the chance of other components voting for PUK, especially in regards to voting to a Kurdish political entity.

Another threat to PUK votes is the formation of new and strong Kurdish rival bloc in Kirkuk. The National List consisted of Gorran, Kurdistan Islamic Group [KIG] and Alliance for Democracy and Justice [ADJ], led by Barham Salih, is the strongest Kurdish bloc in the province which competes with the PUK.

Another threat to PUK votes in Kirkuk is the formation of new and strong Kurdish rival blocs in the city

The strength of the National List is that its political parties did not take part in the withdrawal of forces in Kirkuk last year, along with the independence referendum which caused Kurdish entity to be weaker in all disputed areas.

Some voters of Kirkuk are discontent with PUK and KDP and their 14-year administration in the province. However, the National List was not part of that administration.

Gorran Movement has some 20 thousand votes in Kirkuk according to the last election, and KIG holds more than 6 thousand, along with Barham Salih, which used to be deputy leader of PUK and have considerable influence on PUK’s base in the province. The National List probably wins seats in Kirkuk.

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Geplaatst door KirkukNow op woensdag 18 oktober 2017

The weakness of this bloc, however, is that many of Kurdish voters in Kirkuk do not trust civil and unarmed forces. In the last elections, only those parties could win seats in the disputed areas which have armed forces affiliated with them.

Adopting a national discourse [Kurdish] also impacts the voters of Kirkuk and other disputed areas. Unlike KDP and PUK, the National List leaders do not embrace such discourses.

Kurdistan Islamic Union [KIU] is under keen observation in this election. They did not shy away from showing that they want to win the 63 thousand voters of KDP, which due to their boycott of elections there, might vote for other Kurdish parties.

KIU is the closest to KDP in the province according to the voters of the latter, due to their stance on the independence referendum and the presidency row in the parliament of the Kurdistan region.

KIU takes part in the election jointly with the Kurdistan Islamic Movement and other Islamic figures.

If KDP allows its voters to vote, KIU might have a chance to win enough votes for a seat in the Iraqi parliament.

The weakness of KIU is that the party has no armed forces, while it has taken part in some of the decisions in the province’s administration, to a lower extent.

If KDP is not preventing its supporters to vote, Kurdistan Islamic Union could possibly win a seat

Other Kurdish forces in Kirkuk have no chance of winning a seat in the province, except in case of KDP making a decision to have its voters vote for a specific political entity.

Ninawa province

Kurdish forces could win eight seats of Ninawa, out of the total 31 seats allocated to the province, KDP with six seats, and PUK with two. Kurdish voters reside mostly in Ninawa plain, which is under the focus of Kurdish parties the most in the elections.

KDP is seen as the strongest party in the disputed areas of Ninawa, as shown by previous elections.

The strength of KDP in the province is its long presence, especially in Ninawa plain. After 2003 and the collapse of Baath regime, KDP worked on the voters of the area, especially through engaging with the tribe leaders and chieftains. The party still has influence over the voters.

KDP considers Ninawa disputed areas as its own popular base. Another strength of KDP is the management over the IDPs in the area for four years up to now, which might guarantee them some votes, especially after IHIEC announced IDPs can vote through any official documents that they preserve.

KDP practices a form of political monopoly, with running most of the administrative positions in the area.

Using the developments of 16 October in Kirkuk, the battle of Prde and S’hela, and presenting itself as the only party which confronted the Iraqi forces after 16 October, are powerful campaign elements of KDP in the area.

Although considered as a strength in many ways, IS war for KDP is also a weakness, especially when it came to not defending Sinjar district in August 2014. The ensuing murder and displacement of the people of the district by IS, which were mostly affiliated with KDP up to that point, led to distrust. Sinjar has become the biggest weakness of KDP.

PUK’s situation is as bad as KDP’s in the disputed areas of Ninawa, if not worse. The two political parties are restricted in their political maneuvers this time, as they are not being able to open headquarters and offices for campaigning in many places.

Along with being parallel with KDP in all weaknesses, PUK has intra-party rivalries as well. After splitting the National List by Barham Salih inside PUK, which eye on PUK’s base everywhere, PUK is expected to go further weak in the areas of Ninawa.

The National List and the strength of affiliates of Kurdistan Workers Party, known as PKK, may well decrease the votes of PUK and KDP.

PKK-affiliates take part in the elections in Sinjar for the first time. These forces were ‘good defenders’ of Yezidi component in the IS battle of Sinjar, which now eyes on their votes, previously kept for KDP.

Salahadin Province

In its best, Kurds can only win one seat in Salahadin province’s 12 seats. PUK takes part in the election with the Iraqi Gathering Alliance for Change to win the seat, now led by current Salahadin governor, which has a better chance than all other Kurdish parties.

The strength and weaknesses of PUK in Salahadin are the same as in Kirkuk. However, due to the displacement of Tuz Khurmatu people in the province, which have the majority of Kurd’s votes there, the situation of PUK might be worse than Kirkuk to some extent, compared to previous elections.

In the previous election, Kurds had fewer than 40 thousand votes, which prevented them from winning a single seat. The chance of PUK is that their candidate might win through the votes of Iraqi Gathering Alliance List.

Halabja, 7 March 2010, two women cast their votes in the Iraqi parliamentary elections. Photo Metrography Agency.

Halabja, 7 March 2010, two women cast their votes in the Iraqi parliamentary elections. Photo Metrography Agency.

The chance of other Kurdish parties winning seats is very weak, as despite the low number of the Kurdish population in the province, the issue is that the only place which is disputed in the province and populated by the Kurds, Tuz Khurmatu, is mostly abandoned and the people have not returned to their homes yet. They are also disgruntled, due to their condition, what they went through, as their houses were ruined and looted after the developments of 16 October 2017.

The strength of PUK is that most of the displaced people from Tuz Khurmatu have sought refuge under PUK, and the votes from there. However, its participation with an Arabic list is once again seen as a weakness.

Diyala Province

In Diyala province, Kurds eye on Khanaqin district and its surroundings, which are disputed according to the Iraqi constitution. The vast majority of the population in these areas are Kurds with around 80 thousand Kurdish voters.

In the last election, PUK and KDP took part in a joint list in the area, which were able to win two seats of parliament, both for PUK candidates.

In this election, the National List (Gorran, KIG, ADJ) take part in the election together, against other Kurdish parties like KDP, PUK, Socialist Party, Communist Party and New Generation which have taken part through an independent list for each.

Losing a Kurdish seat in Diyala province is possible

Such detachment might well cause the Kurds to lose one of their two seats in the province, as in the election of 2010, where Kurds could only win one seat, which was for PUK.

PUK has a better chance when compared to the other Kurdish parties in this election, due to the popular base of the party in Khanaqin district, which are mostly Kurdish voters and PUK affiliates.

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