October 15, 2005
While Kurds may
overwhelmingly vote “yes” in the referendum, a vocal
minority is expressing reservations.
Seiran Taha, a Kurdish law professor at Sulaimaniyah
University, is not just opposed to Iraq’s draft
constitution. “Opposed” is not a strong enough word.
"No, no, no and one million times no to the
constitution," she said, adding that by supporting
the document "we will do to ourselves as Kurds what
the British did to Kurdistan 80 years ago when they
forcefully incorporated it to the Iraqi state".
A recent poll of almost a thousand eligible Kurdish
voters indicated 79 per cent would vote for the
constitution. But in the Kurdish city of
Sulaimaniyah, a vocal minority said they would
either reject the document or stay away from the
polls on October 15.
Many of these dissenters are opposed to the
constitution because they believe it extinguishes
the possibility of a Kurdish state or does not
support women’s rights.
And a significant number said they wouldn’t
participate because they do not trust the Kurdish
political parties or the political process.
Some have accused the parties of corruption and
maintained they do not serve the people. Services
such as water and electricity are poor and housing
is expensive, making daily life a struggle for many.
While the electricity and water issues as well as
concerns about the constitution are not exclusive to
Kurdish areas, they are diminishing public
confidence in the rival Kurdish political parties,
the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, which
controls the eastern sector of Iraqi Kurdistan and
the Kurdistan Democratic Party, PDK, which runs the
In this sense, voters are treating the poll as a
referendum on the political situation as much as -
or, in some cases, more than - the constitution.
Leaders from both parties helped draft the
constitution and are encouraging Kurds to support
“I and many other people I know will vote no to the
constitution because the government hasn’t done
anything to improve the living conditions of
people,” said Dana Abdullah, a 19-year-old taxi
driver. “And whatever [the government] does, it is
temporary in order to encourage people to
participate in [elections]."
Dana Sherko, a 31-year-old a civil-servant, arrived
at his polling station at six in the morning to vote
for parliamentary representatives on January 30,
2005. He will go to the polls again, this time
casting his ballot against a constitution - which he
otherwise supports - as a protest vote against the
“I’m critical of the Kurdish authorities because for
over 14 years they have run this country and they
have done nothing,” he said. “I believe they also
won’t do anything in the future."
Iraq’s Kurdish territories have enjoyed relative
autonomy from Iraqi rule since 1991.
Drafted by a national assembly committee that
included members of numerous political, religious
and ethnic factions, the constitution was supposed
to incorporate the demands of Iraq’s diverse
population. But serious concerns remain.
The constitution becomes null and void if two-thirds
of voters in three provinces vote against it in the
referendum. The largest opposition comes from Sunni
Arab leaders, who fear federalism in Iraq may
fragment the country.
At the same time, many Kurds who want a Kurdish
state worry that the constitution will end their
national ambitions. The recent decision to allow
amendments after the referendum may ease certain of
these concerns, but some voters are extremely
sceptical that the document will help Kurds.
“Kurds cannot achieve their rights through
constitution because it is only ink on paper,” said
Dereen Dler, a 25-year-old civil servant. “Because
of this I will vote ‘no’."
"I expect nothing from that constitution because as
a Kurd, I want us to be independent,” said Niaz
Mahmood, a 20-year-old student. “This constitution
glues us to Iraq, and because of this I don’t
Salahadiny Muhtady, a member of the Patriotic Union
of Kurdistan’s central committee, said people who
oppose the constitution do not understand its role.
“It will not decide the destiny of the Kurdish
people in Iraq," he said. “It does not mean that
both nations will stay together forever."
He maintained that those who vote against it “will
hurt themselves more than the political parties”.
Many women’s activists said they will vote against
the Iraqi constitution because it relies too heavily
on Islam, which could lead to legal interpretations
that restrict women’s rights.
The draft document says “no law should be passed
that contradicts the principles of Islam. This is
obviously against the rights of women”, said Wazira
Jalal, director of the New Life Organisation, a
non-governmental group helping female victims of the
Anfal campaign against Kurds in 1988.
Kurdish political parties in Baghdad agreed to the
constitution on condition that their political
demands were met, but in doing so they "sold women
out", said Najiba Mahmood, director of women’s
projects at the Civil Development Organisation, a
civil society body. She will not go to the polls.
Talar Nadir is an IWPR trainee journalist in
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