Kirkuk Political Parties at Odds over Electoral Commission for 18 Years

Security forces guard a polling station for the Iraqi parliamentary elections, Kirkuk, May 2018. KirkukNow

By KirkukNow

The Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen political parties in Kirkuk have been in conflict for 18 years over the administration of the independent High Election Commission (IHEC).

The latest phase of the political dispute over the Kirkuk office of IHEC began about a week and coincides with the preparations for the provincial council elections, which according to the law should not be held later than next December.


Arabs and Turkmen: Change the commission

"The Kirkuk provincial council elections are very important for all communities ... If the process is conducted with the current composition of the commission, fraud and tampering with votes will be repeated," according to a number of Turkmen and Arab political parties.

On May 23, 2023, in a press conference attended by KirkukNow, the Turkmen and Arab parties in Kirkuk called for the post of director of IHEC Kirkuk office and the restructuring of the administration, so that there is balance between communities.

Since 2005, Arabs and Turkmen have constantly criticized the management of the commission's Kirkuk office, which was run by the Kurds.

The northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, 238 kilometers north of Baghdad, is an ethnically mixed province for 1.7 million Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and Turkmens. It has long been at the center of disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil.

Kirkuk is one of the main disputed areas in addition to Diyalah and Nineveh that a three-stage process outlined in Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution in 2005, stipulating normalization, a population census and a referendum on the status of the territories, was drawn to put an end to Erbil-based Kurdistan region government KRG and Iraqi Federal government dispute over these areas.

Video: Arab and Turkmen parties hold press conference on the posts of the commission, Kirkuk, May 23, 2023. KirkukNow

"The post of director of the commission's Kirkuk office has been occupied by one ethnicity since 2005," said the joint statement of the Turkmen and Arab parties, including the Iraqi Turkmen Front ITF and the Arab Council.

Turkmen and Arab political parties, in recent years, especially after the 2018 parliamentary elections, have held more than once demonstrations, rallies and press conferences for changes in the Kirkuk office of IHEC, on charges of "involvement in fraud.

Since 2018 alone, there have been five changes in the post of director and some other departments of the IHEC Kirkuk office but the Turkmen and Arabs have not agreed to any of them.


Kurds disagree

The Kurdish political parties in Kirkuk, although hold the position of director of the Kirkuk office of the commission in the past 18 years, but are not satisfied and believe that out of the total administrative positions, they have not been given their full rights.

In a press conference attended by KirkukNow on May 24, 2023, a number of Kurdish political parties in Kirkuk, excluding the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani, in a statement responded to the protests of the Turkmen and Arab parties.

They demanded that the total number of administrative posts be redistributed among the ethnic groups in the city according to the electoral merits, otherwise we will no longer accept “some so-called Arab and Turkmen political parties to plot against our nation.”

In Kirkuk, the Kurds have six seats, the Arabs four and the Turkmen two at the Iraqi parliament. Regarding the provincial council, the Kurdish Brotherhood list had 41 seats, the Turkmen nine and the Arabs six.

According to the statistics published by the Kurdish parties, the director of the commission is a Kurd and his deputy is an Arab. Out of 13 departments, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens each chair four departments and one for the Christians.

“We don't know where is the injustice against the Turkmen and Arab nations?”

What is being said now is just election propaganda

The statement elaborates that in other administrative positions and the number of employees; there are 45 Arabs, 41 Turkmens and 22 Kurdish directors in the 109 government offices.

“Kurds make up 22% of the civil servants of Kirkuk, Arabs 35% and Turkmens 43%. Out of five mayors (for districts and sub-districts), none are Kurds.”

Some of the administrative positions held by Kurdish candidates were passed to acting mayors and directors following the events of October 16, 2017, when the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) forces and Kurdish political parties left Kirkuk when the federal government forces returned, following the conflict between the two governments of Baghdad and Erbil after the referendum.

"We don't know how they can talk about injustice? It is we who must fight injustice with them," the statement by the Kurdish parties said.

According to the latest amendment to the law on parliamentary and provincial council elections; Any citizen in Kirkuk who is not in the 1957 census or cannot prove that he is a resident of the province according to food ration coupons before 2003, will not be eligible to vote in the provincial council and parliamentary elections.


Kirkuk office of IHEC: We are neutral

The Kirkuk office of the (IHEC) in Iraq, emphasizes the "impartiality" of their work, so they do not want to get involved in the conflict among political parties, which they consider an early election campaign.

The post of director of the commission's Kirkuk office is currently held by Luay Arkan Kakeyi who took office on June 2, 2021 by the decision of the IHEC’s Council of Commissioners.

"We will do our job according to the law and we will not listen to the accusations because we will do our job impartially," Kakeyi told KirkukNow in response to accusations of fraud and failure to conduct the elections from the Turkmens.

Luay, a resident of Arab Koyi village in Daquq district, has been an employee of the commission since 2004 and has held several positions.

Video: Kurdish parties hold press conference to respond to Arab and Turkmen parties about the posts of the commission, Kirkuk, May 24, 2023. KirkukNow

The positions for Kirkuk office of the electoral commission were reshuffled in 2021. Kakeyi was appointed to replace Sawsan Tayeb Muhedin, who was previously appointed as part of the 2020 changes.

Before Muhedin, the post of director of the commission's office was held by Qais Mohammed, who took the post for the second time in 2019, as he had the same post in early 2018, but was removed then and until after the 2018 parliamentary elections, Emad Wali replaced him.

Kakeyi said the parties' accusations refer to the 2018 parliamentary elections, which he was not in office at the time, and for the previous elections, in 2021, "was commendable by all ethnicities, especially Arab and Turkmen.”

The director of the Kirkuk office of the commission says they are fully prepared to hold the provincial council elections, which according to the law, must be held before the end of this year.

The commission's preparations for the elections, which have not been held in the Iraqi provinces since 2013 and Kirkuk participated in the process only once in 2005, while the federal government has not yet determined the date of the process.

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