An Iraqi policeman stands outside a polling station in the city of Mosul during the country's 2009 parliamentary elections. Photo: AFP
By Obeid Rashavayi
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – Thousands of Iraqi Kurds may be unable to vote in local elections in Mosul, authorities fear, due to problems with registration in the ethnically-mixed northern city whose Kurdish population was systematically forced out under Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime.
Provincial elections held in most of Iraq on April 22 were postponed to July in some of the country’s Sunni regions – including Mosul – due to ongoing protests against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
“A considerable number of names of Kurdish voters are missing in the registration lists. Some claim that the voters did not go to register their names in the election centers, others claim that it is Baghdad's fault,” said Arif Rushdi, an official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two ruling parties inside the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
"We are currently in touch with the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Baghdad and Erbil,” Rushdi said. “Many Kurdish voters will be disenfranchised if this problem does not get settled," he feared.
Iraq’s large minority Kurds suffered greatly under Saddam’s brutal dictatorship. They were imprisoned, executed, exterminated with poison gas and displaced from Kurdish-majority regions where Saddam wanted power shifted in favor of his own Sunni powerbase.
Since Saddam was overthrown following the 2003 US-led invasion, the Kurds have established their own autonomous northern enclave, but also claim rights to other disputed regions, including large parts of Nineveh province, where Mosul is the capital.
Many displaced Kurds have been returning to their old homes, only to face administrative red-tape, including problems registering to vote.
Rushdi said that the KRG, “Should have checked the names of Kurdish families one by one in the lists of registered voters," even before the elections were postponed to July.
Kurdish authorities fear a rerun in Mosul of events in the northern district of Khanaqin, where more than 30,000 Kurds were reportedly unable to vote in the 2009 elections because their names could not be found on registration lists. Authorities have relied on food ration registrations to determine voting rights.
"In the 2009 elections the names of 34,000 Kurds were not found in the lists of registered voters. The same scenario might get repeated this time as well," said Ismat Rajab, an official of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Mosul.
Hessein Sabri, director of food rations in Duhok province, said that since 2007 the KRG has assisted Kurds from disputed regions to transfer their documents to other Kurdish cities.
"This has been greatly successful, but no one made the necessary checks in order to register the unregistered names in the IHEC offices,” he said. “This might cause problems and some names might be missing when the list of eligible voters get announced."
Khalid Taalo, an IHEC official in the Nineveh province town of Shangal, complained that election authorities in Mosul had been uncooperative.
“More than 1,500 families from Baarde, Simel and Duhok have transferred their food ration documents to Shangal, but they did not find their names when they went to the IHEC’s office to register their names. The families have contacted us and we wrote a letter to the IHEC's office in Mosul, but they have not responded yet. The problem persists," he said.
Taalo also blamed citizens for not showing enough care to register their names at the election centers.
But Yousif Salman, deputy head of the IHEC's office in Mosul, said: "It is too early to talk about this problem. Nothing has happened yet, why should we get ahead of events?"