One of the few new parties to come out victorious in the January 2009 provincial elections could be the al-Hadbaa party of Ninewa province. A U.S. official told Reuters that he thought the Hadbaa list would get around 66% of the vote there. The province is one of the most divided and violent in the country due to the simmering dispute between the majority Arabs who are ruled by the Kurds. There are also a large number of minorities such as Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, and Turkomen who reside there that are caught in the middle. The province had one of the highest voter turnouts in the country at 60%, which could be the result of the power struggle between all these various groups. If al-Hadbaa does come out the winner, it may increase the tensions in Ninewa as it ran on an Arab-nationalist, anti-Kurdish ticket.
While there were twenty-five other entities running in Ninewa, the election was really between Al-Hadbaa and the Kurdish Ninewa Brotherly List. The al-Hadbaa National List was formed in 2007. It is made up of four parties, Al-Hadbaa National United Assembly, the Patriotic and National Forces Assembly, the Iraqi and Kurdistani Party for Freedom and Equality, and Al-Qasat Iraqi Assembly. Atheel Nujafi who comes from a rich and famous Mosul pedigree heads the List. He and other well-known families and tribes form the backbone of the Al-Hadbaa National United Assembly, which was put together in 2007. The Patriotic Union and National Forces Assembly was founded by Isam Aead Sheat al-Jubouri. The Assembly is itself a coalition of the Democratic Reform and Justice Party, the Justice and Reform Iraqi Movement, the Arab Socialist Movement, the Nasserite Avant-Garde Socialist Party, and the Iraqi Arab Party. The Iraqi and Kurdistani Party for Freedom and Equality was also founded in 2007 by Arshad Ahmed al-Zebari. They oppose Kurdish independence. Al-Qasat Iraqi Assembly was started in Mosul in 2005 by engineer Fares Abdul Azeez al-Sanjari. They want an end to the U.S. occupation, freeing of prisoners, and decentralized rule.
Together the List called for Iraqi unity as an Arab and Islamic country, an end to the U.S. presence and militias, women’s rights, the development of the province, and claim they will help end the insurgency. They were most noted however for their attacks on the Kurds, who currently control the provincial council because of the Sunni boycott in January 2005. They opposed the Kurds’ aspirations to annex northern sections of the province, accused them of cheating in the voting, manipulating the security forces, blamed them for raids on their offices, and said they would remove Kurds from leadership positions. Atheel Nujafi went as far as to claim that the Kurds tried to assassinate him.
The Kurdish List is made up of the two main Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, along with many other smaller entities Those include the Kurdistan Islamic Union, the Assyrian National Congress, the Iraqi Communist Party, the Kurdistan Communist Party, and the Kurdistan Socialist Party. The Kurds want a federal system that will ensure their autonomy, and the annexation of areas they lay historical claim to. One Kurdish member of the Ninewa council for example, said that the election would prove that the people in the disputed territories in the northern region of the province want to join Kurdistan, and a Kurdish Army officer claimed that Mosul would eventually be part of an independent Kurdistan as well. The Kurds also accused the al-Hadbaa list of being Baathists, and having ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The Kurds held no illusion about their chances heading into 2009. In 2005 because of the Sunni boycott, only 14% of the province voted. This time they were expecting a heavy Arab turnout, which apparently happened. They were therefore cold about holding the elections in the first place, and tried to delay the passage of the provincial election law in parliament in 2008. In December, the Kurds on the Ninewa council attempted to delay the vote there unsuccessfully to hold off the inevitable.
As the campaign started, electioneering was difficult because of the lack of security. Much of the work was done secretly as a result. One researcher at Mosul University thought the 2005 election was actually more open with more parties participating, but with fewer voters because of the Sunni boycott. Al-Hadbaa was expected to take the southern Arab portions of Ninewa, and most of Mosul, while the Brotherly List had support in the north and west, and northern Mosul. The rural areas were considered up for grabs
American officials have often said that they hope the elections could help solve the problems in Ninewa. Right after the voting was completed for example, the U.S. general in command of Mosul said this could be a turning point. That may be wishful thinking, as the campaigning between the Kurds and Hadbaa was anything but cordial. If the U.S. official was correct and al-Hadbaa gets two-thirds of the seats they will be able to rule the province on their own, which could lead to a direct confrontation with the outgoing Kurds. Al-Hadbaa’s campaign promises of removing Kurds from positions of authority and asserting Arab identity will be rejected by the Kurdish List. Unfortunately, that is the way Iraqi nationalism is increasingly being formulated. Al-Hadbaa’s demands on the Kurds closely mirror statements and moves made by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki since 2008 as he has tried to establish himself as a national leader of the country. What is needed is reconciliation and power sharing in Ninewa, but none of the sides, nor Baghdad is proposing that. That means the divide between Arabs and Kurds will continue, but the big question now is whether it will still be as violent or become more political.
Al-Ansary, Khalid, “Election friction flares in Iraq’s violent north,” Reuters, 1/2/09
Aswat al-Iraq, “MP accuses Kurds of ‘illegitimate’ campaigning,” 1/24/09
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Cocks, Tim, “Vote sows seeds of greater calm in Iraq’s north,” Reuters, 2/2/09
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Garcia-Navarro, Lourdes, “Iraq’s Election Campaign Especially Bitter In Mosul,” Morning Edition, NPR, 1/30/09
International Crisis Group, “Iraq’s Provincial Elections: The Stakes,” 1/27/09
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