Reformist gains in Kurdish vote shake Iraq's quiet north

Calls for end to monopoly control of power generate strong results for Goran party

The surprisingly strong showing by a reformist party in Kurdistan elections is shaking the power structure in what has long been the most stable part of Iraq.

The "Goran" party – which translates as "change" – did particularly well in Sulaimaniyah, in eastern Kurdistan. This region has long been the stronghold of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. The electoral setback to his party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), is reported to be so severe he is considering resignation, according to al-Sharqiya, a television news channel.

The outcome of the election is being closely monitored by the Baghdad government for signs the normally well-organised and united Kurdish bloc is beginning to split.

This would be important given growing hostility between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which is threatening to lead to armed conflict between Arabs and Kurds over disputed territories, including Kirkuk and its oilfields.

Based on incomplete results yesterday evening, Goran appeared to have won some half of the vote in Sulaimaniyah. "It is too close to call," said Qubad Talabani, son of the president, speaking for the Kurdistan List – which unites the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

But the defection of so many of its supporters to Goran, which was only formed recently, is a blow to the PUK in its stronghold. "Goran's success has changed the way politics is done in Iraqi Kurdistan," said Hiwa Osman, country director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and former press secretary to President Talabani.

Goran leaders said yesterday they suspected their gains in the KDP-dominated Arbil and Dohuk provinces had been limited by electoral fraud, in the final hours of the poll.

Mohammed Tawfiq, a former PUK leader who joined Goran, said: "All was going well until about 3.30pm when there was a surprising surge in the number of voters in the space of a few hours. There was definitely something fishy going on."

If suspicion by Goran supporters that the vote was rigged hardens into a conviction they have been robbed of complete victory, then animosity will deepen between the parties. Last night however there were no signs of any move to organised street protests.

Goran was founded by Nawshirwan Mustafa, a former deputy leader of the PUK. He accused his former allies of ruling Kurdistan autocratically, as if it was a former Soviet republic like Turkmenistan. As well as his former party, he was critical of the KDP, led by Massoud Barzani, who is also president of the KRG.

Mr Mustafa said the ruling parties had total control of parliament, the judiciary, intelligence agencies, the media, peshmerga militia, and Kurdistan's 17 per share of Iraq's oil revenues.

Most people, he said, survive "on government salaries". He said there is "no economy, no industry and no agriculture". Mr Mustafa also alleged that the Kurdish leaders were exaggerating the threat of war with Baghdad to frighten Kurds into offering their support. "It is a fabrication to mobilise public opinion," he said.

Mr Mustafa described the KDP as the "family party" of Mr Barzani, who was re-elected president of the KRG.

But in Sulaimaniyah, he was outvoted by an obscure candidate, Kamal Mirawdeli, in what will be seen by the KDP as a serious rebuff, and a sign its PUK partner has been weakened. Speaking in the run-up to the election, Mr Barzani reiterated his determination to see Kurds make good their claims to disputed areas which stretch 300 miles across northern Iraq, from Syria to Iran.

He openly attacked Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki for monopolising power, such as controlling the oil industry, and unilaterally appointing 15 army divisional commanders.

Goran leaders have criticised Mr Barzani's confrontational approach in trying to make Kirkuk and other disputed areas part of the KRG.

"You can't integrate them by force," said Mr Tawfiq, adding that non-Kurdish minorities need to be encouraged to offer their support by better services, and greater respect for their rights.

Goran's platform of combating corruption and party control of power, money and jobs, resonated with many Kurds. The campaign came alive with mass rallies under the blue Goran flag, in a way which has never happened previously in Kurdistan. These prompted the Kurdistan Front to respond with its own mass rallies.

Such activism is uncommon in much of the rest of the Middle East, where elections are often a means for the state to demonstrate its own control.

The struggle for power in Kurdistan

What are the elections about?

The Iraqi Kurds are electing a president and a 111-member parliament for the highly autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.

Why does the election matter?

The Kurds, about a fifth of Iraq's population have hitherto been the most united and best organised community in Iraq. This enabled them to play a disproportionately important role in Iraqi politics, with the president, foreign minister, army chief of staff and other senior figures all being Kurds. The political divisions exposed by the election may make it difficult for them to play this role future.

Who rules Kurdistan at present?

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is described as autonomous, but in practice it is more independent, politically and militarily, than many members of the UN. It is ruled by a coalition of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Iraqi President Talabani, below left, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by KRG president Massoud Barzani, right.

Who is behind the Goran, or Change, political party?

This is a new breakaway faction of the PUK led by Nawshirwan Mustafa, former deputy leader of the PUK. Mr Mustafa says the KRG, as it is currently run, is autocratic, corrupt and incompetent.

Will the election make a war between the Arabs and Kurds in Iraq more or less likely?

The Kurds will probably be more divided in future and that could mean Baghdad considers them an easier target. At the same time, though, Goran leaders have urged a more conciliatory approach in handling issues like Kirkuk and the disputed territories.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Foundation Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are looking for Founda...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?