KIRKUK – Kurds are declaring victory after elections in Iraq’s northern oil-rich city, Kirkuk, but other groups in the multi-ethnic city are not ready to concede. Some allege massive voter fraud.
"This election was done without any oversight from the United Nations," says Ali Mahdi, an officer in the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the largest party of ethnic Turks in Kirkuk. The Turkmen front alleges many of the 100,000 Kurdish refugees allowed to vote in Kirkuk’s election were not forced out of the city by Saddam Hussein as they claimed. He says many of the refugees never actually lived in Kirkuk.
"We want the United Nations to come here and investigate these allegations," he said. "Until then, we cannot say there has been a fair election here."
The Turkmens’ allegations are echoed by Arab parties who boycotted the election in Kirkuk. "The result of the election was fixed before it even began," Sunni Arab Sheikh Hosbi al-Ubaidy, a leader of the united Arab slate told IPS. He was referring to the interim Iraqi government’s decision to allow Kurdish refugees to vote in the election.
Sheik Hosbi al-Ubaidy also said that some Arab neighborhoods were staffed with Kurdish or Turkmen election workers who improperly registered their candidates’ votes.
In addition, the movement of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Kirkuk alleged that people dressed as Iraqi policemen came to polling stations in Shia Arab-dominated areas and took ballots away before they could be counted.
The Iraqi Organization for Human Rights and Civilian Community in Haweijah, a primarily Arab neighborhood southwest of Kirkuk, says ballot boxes were taken from Arab areas around Kirkuk to Kurdish areas of the city to bolster Kurdish turnout.
None of these allegations could be confirmed, but because all independent election monitors were based in Jordan during the election rather than Iraq itself, it is also difficult to discard them. Either way, they demonstrate difficulties that lie ahead in governing this multi-ethnic city.
The Carter Center, run by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, refused to monitor elections in Iraq because it said the elections failed to conform to its standards of transparent and legitimate polling.
The United Nations itself has yet to weigh in on the legitimacy of the election. After meeting with leaders of Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Iraqi Islamic Party in Baghdad, UN special envoy to Iraq Asraf Qazi told reporters in Baghdad: "It is the duty of United Nations mission to consult all the main political leaders to examine the latest developments." The Iraqi Islamic Party had boycotted the election and has been refusing to recognize the result.
A deeper issue on election day was that each party was contesting on the basis of sectarian or ethnic representation.
"It’s not good when you have a list for Shia and a list for Sunni, and a list for Turkish and a list for Kurdish," said Sheik Ubaidy. "This was not an election. It was a census."
Kurds, meantime, are riding high on their victory. "The Iraqi Turkmen Front is finished and they’re grasping at straws," argues Kurdish journalist Shuan Daoud. Daoud, like many in Northern Iraq, believes the Turkmen Front represents the interests of the Turkish government in Iraq rather than of the Turkmen people.
"As for the Sunni Arabs," he says, "many of them were officers in Saddam’s military or intelligence service, so they oppose the coalition and they oppose the election. But there is no turning back for them. Kirkuk is a Kurdish city."
After the election is certified this week, Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties believe they will hold two-thirds of the seats on Kirkuk’s local council. They plan to begin resettling Arabs moved by Saddam’s government from the south of Iraq to Kirkuk, replacing them with Kurdish refugees. Shuan Daoud notes the Kurdish leaders have made an agreement with the interim government of Iyad Allawi to resettle all Arabs moved north by Saddam within 11 months of the election.
But Hosvi al-Ubaidy, like most Arabs in Kirkuk, foresees difficult times ahead. "If the Kurds push too hard, we will be forced to adopt a new course as well."
(Inter Press Service)