Calm Erbil campaign offers few clues
By IWPR-trained reporters in Erbil
The city has seen little of the lively
electioneering that has been a feature of other
parts of the region.
Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — The
election campaign has passed quietly by in Erbil,
leaving few indications of the city’s political
Supporters of the dominant Kurdistani list say the
silence on the streets shows the opposition is weak.
But opponents of the list say the low-key
campaigning is ominous - a sign that voters fear
openly declaring their sympathies.
The city is the capital of Erbil province, home to
some 900,000 of Iraqi Kurdistan’s 2.5 million
registered voters. It is a stronghold of the
governing Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, and the
seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG. As
such, it is closely associated with the Kurdish
The city remains a magnet for Kurds from surrounding
areas, who come here in search of employment. To
hear them speak of Erbil, one would think its
streets were paved with gold. Its wide highways are
undoubtedly the smoothest in Kurdistan, ideal for
the expensive SUVs that race along them.
Erbil city can seem as if it is on the brink of
becoming a boomtown. It has showy supermarkets and
gated compounds for wealthy locals and foreign
workers. On the outskirts, a new airport terminal is
being built. Tall buildings dot the horizon.
But progress on some of the big projects appears to
have been frozen. Some fault the global economic
downturn, but others blame corruption.
The Kurdistani list denies allegations of wrongdoing
and takes credit for sprucing up the province’s
image with investment and infrastructure projects.
With several of its key leaders holding cabinet
posts in the Iraqi government,www.ekurd.net
can also claim to have advanced Kurdish interests in
Bahjat Khidr, a newspaper vendor in his twenties,
said he would vote for the Kurdistani list because
of the “unstable political environment in Iraq”.
The largest posters in Erbil city are of the KDP’s
leader, Massoud Barzani, who is running for
re-election as the Kurdistan region’s president. The
KDP and its former rival, the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan, PUK, are allies in the Kurdistani list,
which is widely expected to win the most votes in
Its closest competition appears to come from the
Change list, a new grouping that has promised reform
and an end to corruption.
The list’s top brass are mostly disaffected former
PUK insiders, and their strongest support is in the
traditional PUK stronghold of Sulaimaniyah province,
east of Erbil.
For the last few weeks, the streets of Sulaimaniyah
city have witnessed lively confrontations between
Change and Kurdistani list supporters.
No such confrontations have been seen in Erbil,
which is dominated by the PUK’s ally, the KDP.
Nonetheless, Change leaders are bullish about their
Kardo Mohammed, a Change candidate in Erbil, said
the list’s supporters feared intimidation by the
authorities and would only reveal their sympathies
on election day.
Fazil Omar, a Kurdistani list spokesman, dismissed
the claims of intimidation, saying Change was making
excuses for its unpopularity.
“The list cannot do what it is doing in Sulaimaniyah
... it does not have many supporters in Erbil. This
is some of kind of rumour to cover their weak
points,” he said.
He also rejected the charge of intimidation, “No
supporter has been threatened. They were offered
Omar said the relatively calm campaign in Erbil was
a sign of political maturity - an indication that
its people “no longer wanted street fights”.
The moderate Islamist Kurdistan Islamic Union, KIU,
is one of the few smaller parties to have held
public rallies in Erbil city. The party’s Service
and Reform list is expected to fare well with the
province’s generally conservative electorate.
A more hardline Islamist party, the Kurdistan
Islamic Movement, KIM, also held a public gathering
in Erbil city last week. The movement’s supporters
waved white flags from cars and played songs in
praise of their faith. The group used to command a
militia and its logo shows the Islamic holy book,
the Quran, and two crossed rifles.
A young Erbil resident who had not been planning to
vote told IWPR he changed his mind after seeing the
movement’s long-bearded supporters on the streets.
“I will vote for the Kurdistani list to prevent them
from turning Erbil into Kabul,” he said.
The rugged northern part of Erbil province can be
regarded as the KDP’s rural heartland. The Kurds’
peshmerga militia attracts many young men from local
towns. In the days of Saddam Hussein,www.ekurd.net
region saw fierce fighting between Kurdish guerillas
and Iraqi troops.
Today, clan and tribe bind the region’s families to
the leadership of the KDP, which has its origins in
the guerrilla war against Saddam.
Voting for the Kurdistani list is being treated as a
patriotic duty here, according to Ayyam Afandi, a
23-year-old university student from the northern
town of Soran.
She describes the region as “a small Texas”, where
men can be seen “sitting in restaurants, eating
kebabs with their Kalashnikovs beside them”.
Afandi says the Kurdish state owes its strength here
to the tribes. “The government gives the tribes
space and freedom, in exchange for their
co-operation,” she said.
IWPR-trained reporters Rebeen Fatah and Karzan
Hamid and IWPR editorial assistant Nabaz Jalal
contributed to this report from Erbil.
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