Turkmens of Kirkuk: Internal and ethnic rivalry

Kirkuk, September 2021- Turkmen candidates in Kirkuk are leading an intensive electoral campaign. Karwan Salihi

By Soran Abdul-Karim

The 24 Turkmen candidates in the three constituencies of Kirkuk are in domestic, ethnic and sectarian conflict in order to earn seats in the House of Representatives in Baghdad.

The dispersion of political parties representing the third largest ethnicity in Iraq have raised concerns of the Turkmen community who is afraid of losing the current three seats it has earned in 2018 elections.

The northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, located 238 kilometers north of Baghdad, is an ethnically mixed province for 1.6 million Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and Turkmen. It has long been at the center of disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil.

Though there are no official records about the Turkmens in Kirkuk, Turkmen political parties say there are over 200,000 Turkmen voters in Kirkuk which has been divided into three constituencies for 12 seats.

Turkmen political parties have gathered only 100,000 voted in May 2018 elections in Kirkuk.

The Turkmen community is at loss as the political parties failed to unite under an alliance to attract all its voters and unite the ethnicity divided by key role players and the neighbors as well.

"They are so scattered that it is going to cause damage to the position of the Turkmens and the number of the seats they will get as well," said Mamad Altunchi, a Turkmen goldsmith of Kirkuk.

They are so scattered that it is going to cause damage to the position of the Turkmens and the number of the seats

The Turkmens in Kirkuk are represented by candidates of United Iraqi Turkmen Front UITF, Iraqi Turkmen Maydan Party, Alliance of National State Forces (led by Ammar al-Hakim and former Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abaddi, both Shiite figures) and independent candidates, both Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Turkmen, the third largest ethnic group in Iraq after Arabs and Kurds, are spread across the country, residing almost exclusively in the northern towns and villages stretching from Tal Afar through Mosul, Erbil, Altun Kopri, Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, Kifri and Khanaqin. They are all Muslims, Sunnis and Shiites as well.

Turkmen political parties won eight seats out of 329 in Iraq's May 2018 parliamentary elections. ITF holds three seats, and the Turkmen Bloc has five seats.

The Turkmen candidates for Iraqi parliament agree with the public that per the new electoral system which divided the province into electoral districts, they should have united under an umbrella for all in order to attract all the voices of the Turkmen community.

Najat Hussein, candidate of the Shiite coalition led by Hakim and Abbadi, is eager for a Shiite Turkmens to make it to the Iraqi parliament for the first time and earn a seat.

"We work to earn four seats but if we do not carefully distribute the votes, all the 100,000 votes might earn one seat for us since it will go to multiple candidates," Hussein said.

"If we make a correct calculation, we will win four seats."

The new electoral law ratified last November, a key demand of October 2019 demonstrators, changed Iraq’s 18 provinces into 83 electoral districts in order to prevent parties from running on unified lists, which has in the past helped them easily take all the seats in a specific province. Instead, the seats would go to whoever gets the most votes in the electoral districts beside a women candidate as quota from each district.

The 329-member house of representatives was elected in May 2018. The vote is held every four years, but the protesters have been demanding early elections. The 12 seats of Kirkuk Northern Province are divided over three electoral districts.

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Kirkuk, September 2021- Turkmen candidates compete each other and their neighbor Arab and Kurd candidates in Kirkuk. Karwan Salihi

Despite their concerns, the Turkmen community is willing to participate in the ballot day in order to keep their cause.

"We are upset but voting for me is the fight o minority and majority in Kirkuk so I am obliged to vote," Altunchi said. "Turkmen voter should consider his vote and not support those who have become a burden for the Turkmen public," without naming any candidate or a political party.

The United Iraqi Turkmen front in an umbrella for nine Turkmen political parties and have registered eight candidates in Kirkuk's three electoral districts, a matter of concern for the Turkmens as multiple candidates leads to devastation of votes.

Back in 2017, the Iraqi Turkmen Front ITF has made 79,000 votes and earned three seats of Kirkuk out of 12, alike the Arabs while the Kurd represented by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK which had an upper hand in Kirkuk till 2017, has won 6 seats.

All other Turkmen parties competing ITF has gathered only 30,000 votes and none could make it to Baghdad.

The UITF is concerned about fraud alike in 2018 when it has accused PUK of fraud yet the independent High Electoral Commission IHEC counted the votes manually and the preliminary results were approved without any major changes.

"People are in odds with elections due to fraud in May 2018 elections, particularly in Kirkuk," said Jawdat Zalal, head of elections for UITF. "We have revealed all the fraud practiced and other provinces followed us."

"We also blame the IHEC that it has not addressed our concerns. Hundreds of our voters work for the security forces can't vote in Kirkuk because they are registered in other provinces," he added.

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Kirkuk, May 2018- The Turkmen voters protested election results and demonstrated in front of IHEC office in Kirkuk. KirkukNow

The Turkmens are not confident that in the second electoral district of Kirkuk, mainly Turkmens, they will win most of the seats due to the numerous Turkmen candidates, up to 15, beside the fierce competition by the Arab and Kurdish political parties.

The Turkmens have a slight chance to compete their neighbor ethnicities in the first electoral district, mainly Kurds, and the third electoral district, mainly Arabs.

"It is true we are not united but this is true for other ethnicities as well," Zalal added.

The independent Turkmen candidates are a real challenge for the political Turkmen candidates.

Zhala Nafitchi, UITF women candidate running in the first electoral district, believes predicting the results is hard due to the new electoral system.

"We might not be able to win four seats because we are not united under this new multi-electoral system and the prediction is difficult. I think two men and a woman candidate of the Turkmens will win seats."

We might not be able to win four seats because we are not united

She called on the candidates who have no low chances to concede in order to spare the votes.

The Kirkuk Turkmens are worried about the transparency of the elections which the IHEC and United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq UNAMI assured that all voices will be heard.

Maysoun Sabah, a teacher from Mousalla mainly Turkmen neighborhood of Kirkuk, said as Turkmens they are always worried about the results not Tukmens' turnout.

"My friends are heartbroken due to fraud in the last elections but voting is still a national duty."

The Turkmens of Kirkuk who in the beginning of the race were confident of taking all the four seats of the second constituency where they are based, believe they will win three seats as the best scenario.

"Though Turkmens are divided but following the elections we can form a united political bloc to defend our rights," Hussein added.

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