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Iraqi Kurdistan

New challenge to Iraqi Kurdish leaders

Article published on the 2009-07-25 Latest update 2009-07-25 14:11 TU

An Iraqi Kurdish resident of Baghdad casts his ballot(Photo: Reuters)

An Iraqi Kurdish resident of Baghdad casts his ballot
(Photo: Reuters)

Queues formed at polling stations in Iraqi Kurdistan Saturday, as voters elected a regional parliament and a regional President. Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani is expected to be re-elected President and an alliance of his party with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is likely to control the parliament. But, for the first time, an oppostion party is expected to win a number of seats.

The Change List, formed by PUK defector Nusherwan Mustafa, may win as many as a third of the seats. That would be a first for a region which has been dominated by the PUK and the KDP for decades.

The two main parties fought Saddam Hussein - as well as each other from time to time - and took over the region when an international blockade of Iraq made it effectively independent in 1991.

KDP leader Jalal Talabani is President of Iraq and the two parties are fighting the regional parliamentary election in coalition.

But corruption and lack of transparency have eroded their support and the Change List has promised to fight these tendencies.

At present, the regional government gives no account of what happens to public money. Neither the budget nor oil contracts are made public.

Mustafa acknowledges the difficulties of opposing the Kurds' historic leaders.

"We are not a real party, more a coaltion of forces," he told RFI's French service. "While the other list is the list of the President, the Prime Minnister of the autonomous region as well as of the President of the country.

"They control everything: the adminstration, the media, all the security forces, the police, the peshmerga [former guerrillas] - everything. So, inevitably, the competition is not evenly balanced."

But some voters are eager for change.

"Today everybody knows what's going on," one of them, Mardin Abdullah, says. "Corruption, scandals. More and more young people are leaving the country because the government is not doing its job. All they think about is getting rich.

"I't's the first time that the Change List is standing but lots of people support it."

In the run-up to the election, there was tension with Baghdad over 16 disputed areas, most importantly the oil city of Kirkuk, whose population is made up of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

Kurdistan also claims parts of three provinces, Diyala, Nineveh and Salaheddin, which have been largely Kurd-populated in the past.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, on a visit to Washington on Thursday, declared these tensions "the most dangerous issues that have been a concern for all the Iraqi government". But he said he is "confident that we will be able to resolve these issues".

Final results of the election will not be known for several days, because ballots must be collected in the regional capital, Arbil, and then transported to Baghdad for counting.

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