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Iraq Report: January 28, 2005


28 January 2005, Volume 8, Number 4
NEWS
IN KURDISTAN, THE ELECTION OUTCOME IS ALREADY KNOWN.

By Kathleen Ridolfo

The Kurdish areas in northern Iraq are hardly a model for self-rule. After almost 14 years of autonomy and 12 years after the Kurdish parliament first convened, Kurds will cast their ballots to elect a new parliament in the north on 30 January. But it appears that democratic evolution in Kurdistan has been stifled by the corruption and nepotism of the two main Kurdish parties, which have dominated Kurdistan politics since 1991.

In December 2004, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) announced that they had formed a joint list for the Kurdistan parliamentary elections that also includes about nine smaller parties. Numerous Iraqi and western media reports indicated that the agreement includes a deal in which the KDP and PUK would split about 80 percent of the 111 parliamentary seats (at 41 seats each) and divide the remaining seats among the parties on their list.

The agreement has caused uproar among the other lists competing in the elections, while media reports indicate voter apathy ahead of the election. Assos Herdi, the editor of the weekly "Hawlati," said of the vote: "What we are facing now is not a democratic election, but a sort of single-party referendum," "The Globe and Mail" reported on 6 January. Student Sa'id Muhammad said: "It's like George Bush and John Kerry running together against Ralph Nader," referring to the three U.S. presidential candidates from November's election.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (http://www.iwpr.net) reported on 19 December 2004 that members of the smaller political parties said that the dual government system (led by the two main parties) now in place in Kurdistan, the lack of an active Kurdish parliament, and the abuse of power by the KDP and PUK have all contributed to eroded confidence among the electorate.

Kurdish officials have argued that the list was necessary to solidify support for the more important Iraqi National Assembly election. Communist Party candidate Dler Muhammad Sharif told Inter Press Service news agency that the agreement reached among the parties on the list is not in itself a good thing, adding that "democracy hasn't really taken root in Iraq yet." "We should be arguing on the basis of ideology, but right now we think the case of Kurds is in a threatened position. That's why we have decided to be on the same slate as Kurdish parties," the news agency reported on 26 January.

Interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, who served as prime minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government before his appointment to the interim Iraqi government, acknowledged to AP last year that parties in Kurdistan need to clean up their acts. "With Saddam Hussein gone, and with the opportunity of building a federal democratic Iraq and after 12 years of self-government, we no longer can use Saddam Hussein [as an excuse] for maintaining some of the unacceptable ways of politics," Salih said. He said voters in Kurdistan want "political reforms genuinely fighting corruption [and] eliminating cronyism and nepotism."

There are a handful of other lists competing in the Kurdistan parliamentary elections; some of the groups have complained about the KDP-PUK agreement. Fereydun Rifiq Hilmi of the Independent List criticized the agreement and the list system in general in a 3 December 2004 article posted on kurdistanobserver.com. "The problem is our people, who have no previous experience of democracy, are easily duped into thinking that this is what is meant by democracy," Hilmi said of the list system.

Of the current parliament, Hilmi said: "Twelve years of 'parliamentary democracy' then, and no one knows anything about the people's representatives. Over 100 members of this most sacred of democracy's establishments and these appointed members have been receiving fat salaries and privileges, living in their ivory towers...far away from the madding business of running the country.... They ruled without any opposition and started to [take] everything from the land, water, and oil, as well as every financial asset...without any accountability or questioning. While they did this the people were kept on the breadline through the now infamous oil-for-food program...and every senior member of both parties is a multimillionaire.... In general there is hopelessness and apathy towards every aspect of life which needs to be urgently tackled."

At least one group, the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, led by Sharif Ali bin Al-Husayn, has complained that the KDP and PUK have such a hold on Kurdistan that other parties have not been able to campaign in the north for the Iraqi National Assembly.

"We do not have any offices in the northern region because the Kurds banned any non-Kurdish lists there," al-Husayn told Jeddah's "Ukaz" in an interview published on 22 January. "They [Kurds] even arrested the envoys that we sent to the north to promote our electoral program. We needed high-level mediation and intervention to secure their release.... The election in Kurdistan will not be free or fair," he added.

GETTING OUT THE SUNNI VOTE.

By Kathleen Ridolfo

As 30 January edges closer, political pundits are keeping their eyes on the Sunni vote -- or lack thereof. In all of this analysis, the focus has remained on the declaration by Sunni religious groups such as the Muslim Scholars' Association and the Iraqi Islamic Party that they will not participate in Iraq's national elections. Many other Sunni parties, however, will participate in the elections and their leaders have called on Sunnis to vote.

At least a dozen Sunni-led lists are registered on the ballot, representing more mainstream -- or more appropriately, more secular -- Sunni groups. One of the best known is the Independent Democrats Movement, led by veteran diplomat Adnan Pachachi. Although Pachachi lobbied for an election postponement and expressed reservations about the vote given the security conditions in the country, he was adamant that his party's list should participate in the elections. Other Sunni-dominated lists have expressed their reservations in holding the elections in January, including Justice Minister Malik Duhan al-Hasan's National Democratic Coalition, and President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir's "Iraqis" list.

Regarding his party's stance, Pachachi told Al-Arabiyah television in a 24 January interview: "We have decided to participate in the elections despite our reservations and our call for their postponement. We believe it is in everyone's interest to ensure the largest possible participation in elections, so they will have the needed legitimacy, particularly since the National Assembly will formulate the permanent constitution. We believe it is very important to have a presence in the National Assembly that represents views that could be different from those of other members." Speaking about the boycott of elections by some Sunni groups, Pachachi added: "I hope that some sides and parties that decided to boycott elections would revise their position, if not by running in these elections, then at least by urging their supporters to vote."

In a 22 January interview published in Jeddah's "Ukaz," Constitutional Monarchy Movement head Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn said: "The Sunni boycott of the election is not voluntary. The Sunni voter wants to participate in the election but this participation will be weak because the government did not provide him with security. Indeed, it sent a message to him saying that the western regions are not safe, when it announced that the four governorates in the west and the north will not participate in the election because security is not maintained there. This reflected on the Sunni voter, who felt that he is not safe and that, even if he participates, his vote will not have any weight."

Many Sunni leaders are pushing for greater participation -- from both party lists and voters. Al-Husayn said that his party has tried to convince the Muslim Scholars Association to take part in the elections. "We told them: If you boycott you will have no role to play in the next government, and it is better for you to be represented in the next government to be able to convey your viewpoints," al-Husayn said. Asked why his party did not boycott the election, al-Husayn said: "We told the boycotters that their position would entrench the occupation. It is regrettable that the Iraqi resistance has no real strategy. It should have participated in the election and obtained a seat in the government.... But now they have no political influence, and the influence of the booby-trapped car is not enough."

The Sunni-led Mosul Tribal Council headed by Sheikh Anwar al-Luhaybi has also called upon all Iraqis to participate in the elections. In a statement on Mosul's governorate elections, the council said that the greatest danger facing the city is the nonparticipation of some groups, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 25 January. The statement was signed by 32 tribal sheikhs who are candidates on the council's list.

Sunni leader Mish'an al-Juburi from the Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc told "The Washington Post" this week that part of the problem in campaigning is that Sunni groups are being threatened by militants. "The people who are against the election have warned me to withdraw. They have focused on me because I am a Sunni with a strong voice," he told the daily. Al-Juburi's comments reflect the main challenge facing Sunni leaders in this election: eliciting support from a segment of society feeling fearful, disconnected, and disenfranchised, while avoiding the wrath of those Sunni militants that will stop at nothing in their efforts to obstruct the political process.

KIRKUK: A CITY UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT.

By Kathleen Ridolfo

The Iraqi Independent Election Commission has reportedly opened 27 polling stations in Kirkuk to register Kurdish voters displaced under the regime of Saddam Hussein to vote in the governorate's 30 January elections, according to Iraqi media reports. The move has angered Arab and Turkoman groups, who claim that tens of thousands of Kurds have returned to the oil-rich city at the behest of Kurdish political parties in an effort to create a Kurdish majority that might someday join a federal Kurdistan. Kurds argue that thousands of Kurdish families forcibly displaced by the Hussein regime have a right to return and vote in the city.

The commission's decision was announced on 23 January and calls on nonregistered voters who left and then returned to Kirkuk to register at polling centers before 25 January, according to a report by Al-Sharqiyah television. "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 24 January that registration would run through 27 January.

Turkoman groups claim that the decision would effectively allow 108,000 Kurds to register in Kirkuk. Ali Mahdi of the Turkomaneli party told "Hawlati" that the decision was taken between the two main Kurdish political parties and the election commission "without considering the opinion of other people in Kirkuk," the weekly reported on 19 January. "Bringing 108,000 Kurds to the city of Kirkuk would be considered a legal violation and we would oppose that," he added.

Turkomans from the Turkoman National Movement demonstrated against the decision at their headquarters in the city, claiming that the decision went against the commission's own rules. The deadline to register to vote expired in December 2004. The commission has called its decision "exceptional," according to some media reports.

The Arab Unified Front announced its decision to withdraw from the National Assembly election and some governorate elections in protest of the decision, Abu Dhabi television reported on 23 January. Reuters cited party leader Wasfi al-Asi as saying on 24 January that the Kurdish refugees were not Kirkuk residents and should not vote there.

Meanwhile, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani recently told the Kurdish Parliament that Kurdish leaders have received written assurances from President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and the U.K. and U.S. ambassadors that Kirkuk would be returned to its former Kurdish majority status, roj.tv reported on the 22 January. Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law established by the Coalition Provisional Authority calls on the Iraqi Property Claims Commission and other relevant bodies to "act expeditiously to take measures to remedy the injustice caused by the previous regime's practices in altering the demographic composition of certain regions, including Kirkuk, by deporting and expelling individuals from their places of residence, forcing migration in and out of the region, settling individuals alien to the region, depriving the inhabitants of work, and correcting nationality."

Talabani's remarks have strained relations with Turkey, which supports the ethnic Turk, or Turkoman minority in the city. The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a warning to the Kurdish groups on 20 January, saying that the groups have settled hundreds of thousands of Kurds that have no historic link to the city. "Nobody could expose somebody else's territory to an illegal fait accompli," ministry spokesman Namik Tan said, turkishdailynews.com reported the following day. For his part, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mas'ud Barzani told a Turkoman delegation in Irbil that he opposed the growing rift between Kurds and Turkomans, Kurdistan Satellite television reported on 24 January.

The struggle for control over the governorate, however, is very apparent. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (http://www.iwpr.net) reported on 23 January that Arab and Kurdish clerics are out in force rallying their followers to head to the polls on election day. One Kurdish mullah has said that he who fails to vote is a "traitor, ex-Ba'athist, and the enemy of the Kurds," while an Arab cleric has said, "Whoever doesn't go to vote will be cursed by God on Judgment Day," the website reported.

AL-HAKIM TELLS RFI SECURITY IS STILL THE GREATEST CHALLENGE. Radio Free Iraq (RFI) interviewed Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and a leading Shi'a figure on the United Iraqi Alliance slate. Al-Hakim spoke about the security challenges facing Iraq, his party's plans for the transitional government, and the ongoing dispute between Iraqi National Congress (INC) head and alliance member Ahmad Chalabi and Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan. Al-Sha'lan recently threatened to have Chalabi arrested for making false accusations against him. (The following is a transcript of the Radio Free Iraq program.)

RFI: After Dr. Ahmad Chalabi and Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan exchanged accusations, Sayyid Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim denied that the candidate list of the United Iraqi Alliance would benefit as a result of Dr. Chalabi's statements. He cautioned against any involvement in such "attacks."

Al-Hakim: First, regarding Dr. Ahmad Chalabi: he has neither been accused nor accused [someone else]. He did not speak as a spokesman for the [United Iraqi] Alliance but as an Iraqi activist.

Second, he did not address any accusations at the defense minister. He only said that there is money [in the] millions that had been [illicitly] taken by the Defense Ministry and transferred abroad. This accusation has to be followed [up on]: the Defense or Finance ministry can issue a relevant statement and say that there has not been anything like that. So the problem can be dealt with in this way. It should not expand in such an inappropriate way as happened.

Third, we don't distinguish when we speak about our behavior. The behavior of everyone should be acceptable to others. We are very sorry if anyone insults anyone in such a way.

RFI: Al-Hakim further said that the coming days will reveal many unknown facts about the Iraqi people.

Al-Hakim: Many facts about many more people will be divulged. Iraqis will get to know the reality about certain people in this period. After such accusations, attacks, distortions, and disinformation, it is natural to defend oneself against accusations. Consequently, people, activists, [political] subjects, and groups can become widely known in this remaining time [before the elections].

RFI: For its part, the Shi'ite Political Council's general secretariat issued a statement, a copy of which was obtained by RFI, in which it condemns what Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan had said with respect to his official expulsion from the De-Ba'athification Committee. [The Shi'ite Political Council] is convinced that the documents it has obtained are sufficient evidence that Hazim al-Sha'lan worked from 1998 until the fall of the regime [of Saddam Hussein in 2003] as a trusted agent in Saddam's intelligence under the alias Haydar Ahmad. [According to the documents] he worked against the Iraqi opposition as the statement [of the Shi'ite Political Council] describes it. The statement adds that minister of defense Hazim al-Sha'lan, instead of defending himself by legal and judicial means, has launched a campaign of statements that are not appropriate to the level of an Iraqi minister in the new era, as the statement [of the Shi'ite Political Council] puts it.

[...]

RFI:Al-Hakim has said that the terrorist operations in Iraq are perpetrated by armed networks supported from abroad whose goal is paralyzing the security and stability in the country. At the same time, he called on parties and political subjects to unite their efforts in preserving a peaceful atmosphere during the elections.

Al-Hakim: There are large and strong terrorist groups supported from abroad. They try to impose divisions, anxiety, anarchy, and disturbances. That is why candidate lists, politicians, and [political] subjects who have entered the elections, besides following their aims, must unite their efforts so that the elections are held in a peaceful atmosphere. The Iraqi people are, thank God, conscious of their responsibilities. They will elect whom they trust. So I will respect the will of the Iraqi people.

RFI: Al-Hakim, who heads the list of the United Iraqi Alliance, thinks that the alliance between the parties is a great success.

Al-Hakim: The idea of alliance is one of the most important characteristics of our list. Alliance means joining various forces, and politicians who belong to different groups, together. When the alliance was in its early stages, there was a request from Ayatollah al-Sistani's office that it would like to foster mutual understanding among the groups and support the idea of an alliance. Indeed, Ayatollah al-Sistani's office was so kind in helping us set up the United Iraqi Alliance list and we are grateful for that.... This is by itself a great piece of work and a big achievement. We are further following this course and are determined to fulfill the sacrosanct goals of the Iraqi people.

RFI: Al-Hakim thinks that one of the priorities of the United Iraqi Alliance is dealing with security problems.

Al-Hakim: As you know, the duration of the coming National Assembly will be very limited. It may last for a year; it may be even less. If we follow the expected timeframe, it should not be in work longer than 10 months. It is a matter of fact that one cannot achieve much, especially when the country is facing such serious challenges.

We have a number of priorities. The major priority is to deal with security problems. The reason is clear and well known: if the security problems are dealt with, it will have a direct impact on the life of every individual.... Among the priorities is securing sufficient supplies of gasoline. It is terrorist groups who burn oil wells and pipelines and who steal gasoline tanks. The same is true for electricity, water, and many other services that citizens are worried about. There are hospitals and other services [of concern]. There will be no progress in the reconstruction of Iraq unless there is a safe security environment. And there cannot be any progress in the political process unless there is a safe security environment. That is why the security issue is the primary issue [for us] -- we will put a lot of effort into improving the security situation. According to the plans, ideas, and visions that we have, we will work on that with other [political] forces and politicians that will be elected to the National Assembly. We will be working on that.

Translation by Petr Kubalek.

IRAN TURNOUT KEY TO EXPAT VOTE.

By Bill Samii

As expatriate voting for Iraq's national elections began today in 14 countries, focus shifted to the turnout in Iran, which has the largest Iraqi diaspora.

An estimated 200,000 live in Iran, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that the country has 100,000 to 120,000 eligible Iraqi voters. Of that number, a total of 60,908 registered in Iran, according to IOM.

Nearly 1.3 million Iraqis live outside the country, according to Iran's Al-Alam television on 22 January, and some 600,000 Iraqis live outside the country as refugees, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 (http://www.refugees.org/wrs04/country_updates/middle_east/Iraq.html).

While the number of Iraqis who registered in Iran are not staggering, the numbers compare well to those in other states neighboring Iraq.

The head of the IOM's Out-of Country Voting program in Iran, Kate Pryce, said on 26 January that she was "extremely pleased" with the number of Iraqi expatriates in Iran who registered from 17-25 January, AFP reported.

In all, 280,303 Iraqis registered in the 14 countries where voting is taking place (Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

There have been suggestions that voter-registration could have been more successful in Iran, however. Seyyed Mohsen al-Hakim, an official with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, had warned on 11 January that there was an insufficient number of registration facilities in Iran, IRNA reported. He also complained about excessively restrictive eligibility requirements for Iraqis wanting to vote in Iran.

There were two registration places in Tehran, two in Qom, one in Urumiyeh (West Azerbaijan Province), one in Kermanshah, two in Ahvaz (Khuzestan Province), one in Shush (Khuzestan Province), and two in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

Iranian state radio and television encouraged Iraqis to register to vote. One of these Iraqis told Radio Farda this week that he and his compatriots were registering not only because of their interest in the election but because they wanted to help their country. Another Iraqi living in Iran told Radio Farda that he would vote in order to guarantee the independence and freedom of his country. He added that he wanted Iraqis to live with the same tranquility and comfort that exists in other countries.

One young man who was not even born in Iraq told Radio Farda that they would vote so they have a stake in Iraq's future. And another one explained that Iraq is his country.

A third Iraqi, who works as a trader in the Tehran bazaar, told Radio Farda: "The best thing I can do is participate in the elections, because the future of an independent Iraq is in our hands. If we do not go and vote then it is finished and gone."

Worldwide, the numbers of people who registered at 75 official voter centers fell short of expectations.

An Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah official and Iraqi immigration officials in Iran and Denmark discussed some of the possible reasons for low turnout in a talk show on Al-Alam television on 22 January. Among the possible reasons were the Eid Al-Adha holiday, the long distance between where people lived and the registration offices, the failure of political parties to explain their election programs, and the expense of transportation.

In Jordan, 20,166 people registered at 11 locations to vote in the election. The "Al-Ra'y" newspaper reported on 22 January that there are about 200,000 Iraqis living in Jordan.

In Syria, 16,581 registered to vote at 10 locations, all of which were in Damascus. "Al-Hayat" reported on 15 January that the Syrian government refused to permit the distribution of Kurdish-language literature encouraging participation in the election.

In Turkey, 4,187 registered at two locations in Istanbul and one in Ankara.

In the United Arab Emirates, with one location in Dubai and another in Abu Dhabi, 12,581 people registered to vote.

In Australia, 11,806 people registered; 10,957 in Canada; 12,983 in Denmark; 1,041 in France; and 26,416 in Germany. In the Netherlands 14,725 people registered to vote; 31,045 in Sweden; 30,961 in the United Kingdom; and 25,946 in the United States.

According to Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order No. 96, a voter must be deemed an Iraqi citizen, be entitled to reclaim Iraqi citizenship, or be eligible for Iraqi citizenship (be born to an Iraqi father). Furthermore, a voter must be born before 31 December 1986.

One could prove nationality with the following Iraqi documents: a personal identity card, a retirement identity card, an Iraqi nationality book, a nationality certificate, an Iraqi passport, or a military service book.

Eligibility could also be proved by showing a marriage contract, an official study certificate issued by an official Iraqi university, or a deed of property. Only people who brought two official documents (or three of the latter type of documents) were allowed to register.

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