ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi kicked off his Nasr (Victory) Alliance’s election campaign in the Kurdistan Regional capital Erbil on Thursday, telling supporters that an economic reawakening could allow Iraq to join the world’s top 20 economies.
Abadi arrived in Erbil on Thursday morning and was received by Nechirvan Barzani, the premier of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), at Erbil International Airport. It was the first meeting in Erbil between the Iraqi and Kurdish leaders since Abadi's declaration of the liberation of Mosul in July 2017.
He later joined his list's rally at Saad Abdullah Palace in Erbil, where Kurdish media, including Rudaw TV, were barred from entering the hall, which was a quarter full of Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds.
"We don't differentiate between a citizen and another. This is our approach, ethics and standing policy," said Abadi.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks at Saad Abdullah Palace in Erbil, April 26. Photo: Chris Johannes / Rudaw
Abadi warned the country’s economic recovery has been held back by corruption in both the Iraqi and Kurdistan Region’s governments. He pledged to remove this obstacle to growth and investment, saying that Iraq is on the verge of an economic awakening that could push the country into the top 20 in the world economically.
He called for unity, saying “we have a responsibility to be better and stronger.” He reiterated that the Kurdish-Arab bond is strong and that his government aims to strengthen it further. In a cross-sectarian appeal, he said no citizen should be oppressed based on their ethnicity, sect or religion.
Kurdish TV crews were barred from entering the hall Photo: Chris Johannes / Rudaw
Rudaw English spoke with attendees and candidates — Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen — on the sidelines of the event.
Sundus Hussam, a mother from Erbil
"The most important thing is peace. Peace. Peace. Peace. We need peace. We want to build a good future for our children," she told Rudaw English after the event surrounded by her family.
Hussam heard Abadi speak to Iraq's many components during his hour-long speech.
"We love him. He is a good man. He talked about the law, against sectarianism. He spoke against sectarianism. We want to live here, and there is no difference between a Kurd and an Arab, a Sunni or Shiite, Christian or Yezidi. We like to be a united Iraq, an Iraq that calls for freedom, freedom of speech, journalism."
Abadi is the first major Arab party list candidate to appear at a campaign rally in one of the Kurdistan Region's three provinces since the establishment of the new government in 2005.
Hussam described the situtation in Iraq as "improving gradually," but reiterated that the conflict cycles have to end
"Stop killing. No war. Stop war," she said.
Firqad Mohammed Zeidan, an IDP candidate from Nasr
"I am an IDP. I became an IDP during the time of Daesh. I came to Kurdistan. The Kurds welcomed me as their sister. I migrated alone as my relatives were all killed. Due to the suffering I saw, [I told myself that I will work] to get the viewpoints between the Kurdistan Region with the government closer, as a bridge of communication," she shared with Rudaw.
Iraq has a 25-percent quota system for women in the Iraqi parliament. Zeidan dismissed that some candidates are just pawns who have no interest in running.
"No. Our women are very powerful," said Zeidan. "They have the determination to obtain [seats] without the need for quota."
"They are afraid of us."
Imad Kamal Saeed, a Turkmen candidate in Erbil
He pointed out that Kurdistan's flag was not displayed during the rally, while only the Iraqi one was.
"I told them that the Kurdistan flag had to be there because I am a person of the law before the economy. I am a lawyer. I told [Abadi's] cadres, not himself, that the Kurdistan flag is a constitutional flag in the Kurdistan Region," said Saeed.
He said sectarianism no longer exists in Iraq and blamed it and the Western perception on "the parties and the religious authorities." He sees Abadi coming to Erbil as proof of that.
"We decided to run on this list so that this sectarianism in Iraq is no more. Enough. This infighting until when? Haider al-Abadi has this aim. His aim is to eradicate sectarianism," he said.
In a recent poll, Abadi's Nasr list is not expected
to garner more than 1 percent of the collective votes in Erbil, Duhok, and Sulaimani province.
"As for me when I decided to run on, it was because I have a three-year economic plan. My economic plan aligned with his program," said Saeed.
Jarjis Gulizada, Kurdish candidate of the Nasr Alliance
He said that his 30 years as a writer and journalist qualify him to run for parliament and build bridges between Erbil and Baghdad.
"This is the first time that an Iraqi politician, not only from the post-2003 history, but from the foundation of Iraq in 1921, this is the first political leader to come to the Kurdistan Region to campaign for his campaign with the view to prove that there is Iraqi citizenship," said Gulizada, who gave a full interview
to Rudaw earlier this week.
Abadi is also campaigning in Duhok on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Abadi kicked off his re-election campaign in Sulaimani, promising
to "listen to any complaint."
Abadi came into power in 2014 shortly after Baghdad cut the Kurdistan Region’s budget when Erbil announced it intended to export oil independent of the capital. In the 2018 federal budget, the Kurdistan Region’s share has been restored, but slashed.
Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga, longtime foes, fought side-by-side to defeat ISIS in Mosul, but when Baghdad rejected Kurdistan’s vote for independence and Abadi ordered troops to take control of the disputed areas last fall, the two sides once again found themselves at each other’s gunpoint.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 12. Iraq’s legislature is the unicameral Council of Representatives with 329 seats. Parties are competing for 44 seats in the Kurdistan Region — 18 in Sulaimani, 15 in Erbil, and 11 in Duhok. Those figures do not include one seat in Erbil and one in Duhok dedicated to the minority quota system.