ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdish parties in the disputed province of Kirkuk on Monday announced they will participate in the upcoming provincial elections as a united front.
The announcement came during a press briefing held following a meeting between a majority of the Kurdish parties in oil-rich Kirkuk, a territory contested by the federal Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
The Kurdish political parties would run under the “Kirkuk is Kurdistani” list, the leader of Kurdish Islamic Movement party in Kirkuk, Hassan al-Shaikhani, told reporters as he delivered a joint-statement. The parties also called on all Kirkukis to head to the registration offices and obtain or update their voter cards.
While the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) did not participate in the meeting, it has voiced its support for the coalition. Khasraw Goran, the KDP’s election office’s director, told Kurdistan 24 the party agrees with Kurds presenting themselves as a united front but that the final decision rests with the KDP leadership.
In mid-June, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC)—the body delegated with organizing elections—announced that a provincial vote would be held across the country, including Kirkuk, in April, 2020. The elections have alread been delayed multiple times due to political instability and security risks.
There are a variety of ethnic groups in Kirkuk, all vying to assume leadership, with the Kurds holding a majority in the local legislature, which guarantees them the province’s governorship. However, in late 2017, Baghdad sacked the then Kurdish officeholder and placed an unelected Arab bureaucrat.
This came following the Kurdish independence bid that included Kirkuk and saw an overwhelming majority of voters casting their ballots in favor of statehood for the Kurds. The Iraqi government, in response, mobilized its forces and the Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militias northward and took over Kirkuk, forcing the retreat of the Peshmerga.
The Kurdish troops held Kirkuk’s frontline against the Islamic State after the withdrawal of Iraqi defense forces in 2014, as the terrorist organization was becoming a growing threat throughout the country, a third of which was under their control at its peak.
Since the takeover by the Iraqi government in 2017, residents have complained of growing insecurity and expressed fears of an Islamic State resurgence in the disputed province. Kurdish officials and coalition members have also called for Iraqi forces to coordinate with the Kurdish forces, while local residents have asked for the Peshmerga to return to the area.
There have also been reports of a new ‘Arabization’ campaign being carried out in Kirkuk by Iraqi authorities, displacing Kurdish families and offering the land up to ethnic Arabs from other areas.
Editing by Nadia Riva