Street scene in Kirkuk. Rudaw photo.
KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region — Due to rivalries between Turkmen and Arabs on one hand, Kurds on the other, provincial elections have not taken place in the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk for 12 years. Kurds are willing to deprive nearly half-a-million displaced people in Kirkuk from voting for their home provinces if Baghdad excludes Kirkuk from taking part in upcoming elections.
Local elections are planned to take place in all Iraqi provinces on Sept. 16, 2017, as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Tuesday. It is not clear whether or not Kirkuk will be included in the polls. Najat Hussein, a Turkmen member of the Kirkuk Provincial Council, claimed that the Iraqi Provincial Council Polls Bill stipulates that Kirkuk’s voter registration system needs to be reviewed before elections can be held.
“Voter registration in Kirkuk should be checked and again all [administrative] positions have to be redistributed,” Hussein said.
Nevertheless, some of the Turkmen and Arabs' stance is that Kirkuk's status should return to its 2003 status and all new neighborhoods, which are mostly dominated by Kurds and created since then, must be demolished.
"When we left Kirkuk there were just six in our family, and now when we return, we are about 50, this is a natural thing," said a Kurdish resident who has returned to Kirkuk since 2003 after they were forcefully evicted from the city by the former Baathist regime.
Kurds are opposed to any decision that would deprive the provinces’ people of voting rights.
“We are just waiting for the inclusion of Kirkuk in this election without discrimination as the bill will be voted for by the parliament,” Governor Najmaldin Karim said.
Officials had said in the past that conditions in both Mosul and the ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk do not allow fair and accurate polls as both cities have been impacted by the war or massive influx of displaced Iraqis.
Authorities in Kirkuk had previously warned that it would not be acceptable for displaced people in Kirkuk to vote in their home elections from Kirkuk, furthermore, officials in Kirkuk would use this as their trump card to ensure Kirkuk is included in the 2017 elections.
However, Hassan Toran, an Iraqi MP and a leader from the Iraqi Turkmen Front said without Hawija, which is currently held by ISIS polls should not be held in Kirkuk.
“Without liberating Hawija district, it is unlikely for elections to take place in Kirkuk,” warned Toran.
He also said the city’s administrative posts should be redistributed and the futures of ethnic groups must be preserved.
Rebwar Taha, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan member in the Iraqi parliament said Kurds will have a unified front in Baghdad.
“The Kurdish factions in the parliament will unanimously call for Kirkuk’s inclusion in the upcoming elections,” Taha told Rudaw earlier this week. “No exceptional statutes have to be created for Kirkuk as no provincial elections have taken place in the city since 2005 and that [not having elections] will not be in the interest of the Kurds.”
Iraq's High Electoral Commission had ruled out the possibility of holding provincial elections in Kirkuk last year, the commission had announced in a statement in August 2016.
Qais Mohammed Rashid, head of the Electoral Commission in Kirkuk deems holding elections in the city as important.
“Since 2005 no elections have taken place in Kirkuk,” Rashid said earlier this week. “It is very bad as many people have been deprived of this very basic right.”
The Iraq’s High Electoral Commission has 43 polling stations in Kirkuk, of which nine are under ISIS control. As many as 900,000 voters are eligible to vote across the province.
Since 2003, Iraq has allowed Kirkuk to hold just one single provincial election due to its "exceptional status.”