ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Following the recent escalation of tensions in Mandali over the town's participation in the upcoming Kurdistan Region referendum, the Electoral Commission has decided to place ballot boxes assigned to the people of Mandali in nearby Khanaqin.
The Kurdistan Region has scheduled a referendum on independence for Sep. 25. Over five million people are eligible to vote, including people in the disputed territories.
Recently, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, an armed militia group of the Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), stormed the Municipal Council of Mandali’s office and forcibly removed the Kurdistan national flag.
Following the attack on the municipality of Mandali, the militia threatened the town's officials and warned they should withdraw their decision to support and participate in the referendum on independence for the Kurdistan Region.
Following the incident, Governor of Diyala Muthana al-Timimi dismissed Mandali Mayor Abdulabbas Hussein Masir.
Mandali is a Kurdish-majority town in the disputed territory of Diyala and chose to take part in the self-determination vote following an Aug. 17 decision by the head and members of the Mandali Council. The town is known as the border point and southernmost tip of the Kurdistan Region before reaching Iraq.
“Since the security situation is not stable in the cities of Saadiya and Mandali and neither town is under the administration of the Kurdistan Region, ballot boxes for referendum day were transferred to Khanaqin. The people of Mandali and Saadiya will be able to vote in the city of Khanaqin,” Masoud Darakhan, the head of the Independent High Elections and Referendum (IHERC) office in Diyala Province told Kurdistan 24 on Wednesday.
He also mentioned there are over 20,000 eligible internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Mandali and Saadiya already in Khanaqin since they fled the Islamic State (IS) threat in 2014.
There are over 225,000 eligible voters in the province of Diyala, including Kurds and other ethnic and religious groups, according to the IHERC.
The spokesperson for the IHERC, Shirwan Zirari, confirmed with Kurdistan 24 that the people of any Kurdistani areas which are currently outside of the Kurdistan Region's administration would be able to vote in the towns secured by Peshmerga forces nearest to their homes.
“It is the responsibility of Peshmerga forces to protect every referendum polling station in the Kurdistan Region,” Peshmerga Ministry spokesperson Halgurd Hikmat told Kurdistan 24.
Regarding areas which are not under the mandate of the Peshmerga, Hikmat said it would be up to the IHERC to find an adequate solution for the matter.
Saadiya and Mandali are towns believed to have historically been a part of the Kurdistan Region, along with its Kurdish majority, but are currently under the control of Hashd al-Shaabi forces.
Editing by G.H. Renaud
(Hemin Hussein and Harem Jaff contributed to this report)