Sulaimaniyah — 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
The "Goran" party – which translates as "change" – did particularly well here in Sulaimaniyah, in eastern
The outcome of the election is being closely monitored by the
This would be important given growing hostility between
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).
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 organized 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
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
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
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
He openly attacked Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki for monopolizing power, such as controlling the oil industry, and unilaterally appointing 15 army divisional commanders.
Goran leaders have criticized Mr Barzani’s confrontational approach in trying to make
"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
Such activism is uncommon in much of the rest of the
Every suitable flat surface in Iraqi Kurdistan has been covered in election posters and banners, some so vast that they have been shredded by the desert wind. In this part of the country most of the flags are dark blue, the colour of Goran.
It has been a surprising campaign. Goran leaders appear a little bemused by the surge in vociferous support for them and the extent of the openly expressed dissatisfaction with the powers that be. This hunger for reform is very evident in Sulaimaniyah, the most heavily populated province in
Such political engagement has never been seen in
Denunciations of the PUK and KDP, standing together as the Kurdistan List, and expressions of support for Goranm, grew in volume over the past few months. Driving along a road which leads to a mountain overlooking Sulaimaniyah last week, I suddenly saw a party just off the road where many people were dancing and celebrating in front of a large yellow excavator draped in blue flags. On a small stage a Kurdish band was playing and people were dancing to the music, holding hands as they formed concentric circles which contracted and expanded as they danced.
“Everything must change after 18 years,” said Dara Jabar, who works in a factory in a factory in
The parties in question are the PUK, founded and led by the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, and the KDP, led by the President of the quasi-independent Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani. Both men are politicians of great skill and experience, but for many Kurds their past achievements and current efforts to avert the current threat to the Kurds from a resurgent Iraqi government, is no longer enough to justify their autocratic, secretive and corrupt rule.
In many respects Mr Talabani and Barzani are victims of their own success in bringing peace to
Goran has grown swiftly after a split in the PUK that has ruled eastern
Events in Kurdustan are taking a similar path to that of many countries where the leaders of national liberation or revolutions become comfortably established in power and used to monopolizing its perquisites. But this development is all the more serious in Kurdistan, indeed in
The government receives this money, 17 per cent of
Politics in the rest of
There have been rumblings in recent years that all was not well in
Three years later the Halabjans are unrepentant. A local Goran representative, Peshko Hama Fares Mahmoud, told me that “it was only after we burned the monument that they started giving us new roads and a better electricity and water supply.” Even so, he pointed to the ruins of houses that had not been repaired since the devastating gas attack. He thought a good ahowing by Goran would have similarly energizing impact on the government.
In poorer areas of Suliamniyah most of the voters said they had voted for change. Dilshad Jabbar Aziz, who left Kurdistan in 1999 to drive trucks and construction machinery in
Kurdish leaders say this is unfair and that the majority do not remember how bad things were in 1991 when they took over. It is easy to see what they mean. I came to Sulaimaniyah in that year, just after it had been recaptured by the Iraqi army which was unearthing the bodies of its secret policemen who had been killed in the Kurdish uprising and buried in mass graves. The whole of
Improvements were slow to come. Four years later in 1995 I visited a village called Penjwin on the border with Iran where people only avoided starvation and fed their families by defusing a particularly dangerous type of jumping Italian made mine called the Valmara, which had been laid everywhere by the Iraqi army. The mine looked like a small Dalek, and if you touched one its prongs, a small charge threw it into the air where it exploded at waist height sptaying undreds of metal balls in all directions. Villagers defused it at enormous risk to sell for a few dollars the explosives and the aluminium in which they were wrapped. Many villagers died and Penjwin’s main street was filled with people without feet or hands.
What is happening here in Iraqi Kurdistan today may be a precedent for the rest of
Patrick Cockburn is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq‘ and ‘Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq‘.