Iraqi national elections: a crucial year ahead for Kurds and Baghdad

With national elections in January 2010 and the upcoming withdrawal of US troops, the next year will prove decisive for Iraq.

Although, progress and political reconciliation has been arduous and slow four years after the last elections, security and general stability has improved. There have been many alliances and splinters groups within the past few years, but judging by the provincial elections earlier this year, Iraq is slowly shifting away from the sectarian tendencies that have severely blighted trust and reconciliation amongst the Iraqi mosaic.

Although, the platform has been set to enhance democracy and at least theoretically propel the country towards a level of national reconciliation, if sides have the appetite for such a phenomenon, the real issues have simply been sidelined for far too long. Ultimately, it is these issues that will determine what future course the Iraqi machine will take.

For example, there are still fundamental differences over federalism and central powers, how the immensely rich Iraqi cake can be shared via an elusive national hydrocarbon law, enticing Baathist into the political fold, keeping influential Sunni factions happy in the long run and calls for changes to the constitution.

The above mentioned set of obstacles is no mean feat, however, coupled with the growing stand-off between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad over disputed territories, and 2010-2011 will surely leave many anxious personnel in the Obama administration.

A chance for new stakes

What the national elections do provide is a chance to refresh the political landscape, alliances and power makeup. As for the Kurds, the national elections will come on the back of their successful regional elections in July, which for the first time instilled real opposition in parliament via the Goran List.

These elections are a chance for Kurds to strike the right concord internally and with other Iraqi factions, with viewing to finally breaking the impasse that has seriously hindered bilateral ties with the Baghdad government.

It is becoming apparent that the Goran List and the PUK-KDP headed lists will be running under separate lists in the national elections, but will “pool” their votes. Such ardent competition that is brewing between Kurdish groups does not have to be a hindrance but can actual spur Kurdish goals. Internal opposition, different views and fresh thinking can be just the tonic on the regional and national level, as long as the overall strategic goals of the Kurds remain unaffected.

Such goals should be designed around maximising the benefit of the Kurdistan Region, ensuring the issue of disputed territories is resolved via the implementation of constitutional articles, and promoting an oil law that is fair and equitable and generally safeguarding the interests of the people in the region that they have been elected to serve.

Fresh thinking, fresh alliances

After years of stalemate on a number of fundamental issues, new political groups and alliances such as the Goran list, can act as the right boost on the national stage.

Now that there is a perception of a balanced air to Kurdish politics, the onset of new Kurdish political groups may spur other Iraqi parties to do business with them. Years of protracted negotiations and tensions between the KRG and Baghdad has left a bitter taste in the mouth, and a genuine new thinking is required by Baghdad coupled with new impetus in Kurdistan, to avoid another four years of lingering progress and sluggish attitude towards implementing constitutional articles.

There have been signs that in Kirkuk that the ubiquitous dispute between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen has been added to by a possible power-battle for the city by Kurds themselves.

It is perfectly natural to have differing Kurdish political actors on the Kirkuk stage and this is a part and parcel of a healthy democracy. However, once again the common goals of the parties must not change and that is to ensure the implementation of article 140.

The advent of Goran in Kirkuk may actual help entice moderate Arab and Turkmen groups to some extent. The provision of a more broad alliance in Kirkuk is absolutely vital to finally break the stalemate. Arabs and Turkmen may well be encouraged to work with a “reformist” Kurdish group.

The Goran list has already indicated that they will deploy a “softer”, more reconciliatory tone towards Baghdad. This would be a productive development, but such moves towards compromise should not usher a sell-out of Kurdish interests.

The compromise towards Baghdad is vital for the development of Kurdistan that will hopefully see a breakthrough on oil sharing and increased oil exports in the region. However, the red-lines must not be altered. Certainly, the democratic implementation of article 140 is one of those fundamental red-lines. The moment democratic principles voted by millions of Iraqis are sidelined this will signal the death of Iraqi unity.

Baghdad is an important strategic partner of Kurdistan and prosperous relationships is vital to the long-term health and success of the region. This engagement should be based on equality and mutual understanding, any Baghdad political rally against the Kurds in the aftermath of the elections to muster Arab nationalist sentiments must be strongly rebuked.


The Kurds are likely to form the single largest parliamentary bloc in the Iraqi National Assembly, so thus their support is almost a prerequisite to the formation of any subsequent government in Baghdad. No alliances should be formed by the Kurds or any move to waste this precious position, without firm guarantees from the prospective alliance partners that will serve the benefits of Kurdistan in practical terms and not just via promises and rhetoric that came with previous alliances.

There is no reason why in Baghdad a ruling coalition can not be formed from Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties, with a strong bout of realism and genuine desire for reconciliation, the interests of each group do not need to be mutually exclusive.

Elections in Kirkuk

This paradigm could not apply to Kirkuk more strongly. Rather than trying to indefinitely delay elections in the province or sideline Kurdish interests, Arabs and Turkmen must comprehend that at some point elections will have to be held in the province like any part of Iraq – delay tactics will not solve the dilemma.

The continuous delays of referendums, census and provincial elections in Kirkuk are undemocratic and illegal. Arab and Turkmen groups should start to work with Kurdish groups to safeguard their interests and build broader alliances, but all within the remit of the constitution. If the majority of the people of Kirkuk decide to annex with the KRG, then Arabs and Turkmens must live with this reality and maximise their positions within this framework and vice versa.

The Kurds must not allow any postponement of elections in Kirkuk come January. Any calls by groups to share power equally in Kirkuk are unlawful. In a democratic system, how can power be shared in any way other than based on proportionate votes of the electorate?

Compromise is important in Iraq as in any part of the democratic world. However, compromise and reconciliation can not be grounded on hypocrisy. How can one share seats equally in one province and disproportionately distribute power in another province (Mosul) with clear intent of sidelining a major political rival and manipulating democratic principles?

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

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