Kurdish newcomer sees robust showing in Iraq poll

By Sherko Raouf and Ayla Jean Yackley

SULAIMANIYA/ARBIL, Iraq (BestGrowthStock) – An up-and-coming Kurdish party expects to capture seats in Iraq’s next parliament from entrenched rivals, its leader said after Sunday’s national poll, threatening to upset the country’s most cohesive bloc.

A robust showing by the reformist Goran list could hurt the alliance of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) as they prepare to negotiate for a role in the next Iraqi government.

Such an outcome could weaken their hand against the Arab-led government in bitter feuds over oil, land and power. The two parties warned they might not accept the election result.

Preliminary results in the polls are not expected until Monday at the earliest, but the Goran, which means “Change” in the Kurdish language, predicted it could pick up at least 20 of Iraqi Kurdistan’s seats in Iraq’s 325-member parliament.

“We are expecting to win a large number of seats that the Kurds will get in the Iraqi parliament,” Goran leader Noshirwan Mustafa told Reuters in an interview.

If the prediction proved true, it would mark a political earthquake in Kurdistan, which the KDP and PUK have ruled jointly with virtually no competition since Kurds got defacto autonomy from the rest of Iraq in 1991.

Goran surprised the political elite in July, when it took a quarter of the 111 seats in the regional parliament.

GORAN DRAWS SUPPORT

While Kurdistan has marketed itself to Western investors as “The Other Iraq,” complaints of graft and human rights abuses has drawn support to Goran’s change platform, especially among youths less loyal to tribal affiliations.

Such complaints have strengthened Goran, mainly with PUK defectors.

Campaigning in Kurdistan, mostly sheltered from the violence that has gripped Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s 2003 ouster, was marred by reports of clashes between supporters of Talabani and Goran in Sulaimaniya, the Kurdish city that is a PUK stronghold.

“I do not think this election is fair and transparent, because security forces answer to the two large Kurdish parties,” Mustafa said.

Safen Mala Qara, a senior Goran official, said the party would eat into PUK support in Sulaimaniya and KDP votes in other parts of Kurdistan. In Iraq’s last parliamentary polls in 2005, the Kurdish alliance between the PUK and KDP captured more than 50 seats, giving them an important voice in parliament.

A split among Kurds could weaken their role as a kingmaker in government formation and dilute their leverage in talks over areas that Kurds have long said should be part of Kurdistan, and over oil exports from Iraqi Kurdistan.

A statement from the joint PUK-KDP list complained that tens of thousands of Kurds had not been able to vote because their names could not be found on voting rolls.

“We feel this is politically motivated and we demand a clarification and solution. If that does not happen we will not accept the election results and will take a stand against it.”

The poll’s outcome will be decisive in President Barack Obama’s plans to halve U.S. troops over the next five months and for oil firms planning to invest billions of dollars in Iraq.

Qara said Goran would be willing to work with other Kurdish parties in Baghdad as Kurds try to advance ambitions to take control of the oil city of Kirkuk and win more autonomy for Kurds’ own oil deals.

“The election is a new political project for all Iraqi politicians,” he said. “We want a coalition with another Kurdish group based on common goals, including (resolving) the disputed areas, confronting corruption and defending Kurdish rights.”

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Kurdish newcomer sees robust showing in Iraq poll