ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdish residents and parties in Iraq's disputed province of Kirkuk are calling for unity in the upcoming provincial elections as a means to secure top local posts.
Kirkuk, an ethnically diverse province comprised largely of Turkmen, Arabs, Christians, and a Kurdish majority, is claimed by both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal government of Iraq.
Though national parliamentary elections have taken place in Kirkuk, the last local election was held in the province was in 2005. This has been caused largely by the inability of local officials from different ethnicities to agree on a mechanism for holding a local poll.
Last year, the Iraqi Council of Ministers decided to hold provincial elections across the nation, including in Kirkuk province, on December 22. The vote, however, was delayed until an undetermined date due to lack of a budget dedicated to the electoral commission and the short period set for the electoral body to make preparations.
Earlier this month, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) proposed that the federal government hold provincial elections in the country on November 16, which would be the first local vote in Kirkuk in the past 14 years.
The Brotherhood bloc, made of all the components of the Kurdish majority, currently dominate most of the seats in the 41-member Kirkuk Provincial Council (KPC).
Since October 2017, though, Kurds become powerless in the oil-rich province, with Kurdish Governor Najmaldin Karim being ousted from his post and with the KPC failing to convene or make any decisions.
On Oct. 16, 2017, Iraqi forces and Shia militias attacked and took over Kirkuk and other disputed territories in response to the Kurdistan Region's independence referendum, held the month before. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters withdrew from those areas, avoiding major clashes to strengthen their lines in the Kurdistan Region. Tens of thousands of people were displaced in the oil-rich and ethnically diverse province, most of them Kurdish.
Since then, Kirkuk and other disputed territories have witnessed instability and an increasing number of insurgent attacks by Islamic State militants and other unknown gunmen.
“We think two important things need to be done in Kirkuk,” Shakhawan Abdullah, a former Kurdish lawmaker of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Iraqi Parliament, told Kurdistan 24 on Friday.
“First, the situation in Kirkuk should be normalized, security and military-wise,” he said. ”Second, Kurdish parties should unite in the provincial elections by having one electoral list in Kirkuk.”
Jwan Hassan, a Kurdish member of the KPC from the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) party, warns that Kurds will be the big loser in Kirkuk should they fail to participate in the upcoming election under one united electoral list.
“If we fail to unite in the elections, we will lose thousands of votes and will eventually decrease the number of seats we can secure in the KPC,” Hassan told Kurdistan 24 on Friday.
After the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq in June 2014, Iraqi forces failed to defend Kirkuk and eventually abandoned the area before the Peshmerga forces and Kurdish security assembled to protect Kirkuk from Islamic State attacks.
Following the formation of the new Iraqi federal government headed by Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in October, Kurdish leaders had been in constant talks with Baghdad to resolve differences related to the disputed territories, including the return of the Peshmerga and Kurdish security to those areas.
Editing by John J. Catherine
(Additional reporting by Soran Kamaran)