Town voters press local issues
By Kamaran Muhammed in Koya, Falah Najim in Halabja
and Dilshad Anwar in Kalar
Leading election candidates pledge to address host
of diverse problems.
Kurdistan region 'Iraq', —
Local issues are driving voters in three key Kurdish
towns who say they want better jobs, curbs on
corruption and more support for Saddam’s victims.
Top Kurdish leaders such as Iraqi president Jalal
Talabani have swung through the towns of Halabja,
Kalar and Koya on campaign stops, pledging to help
residents who complain of government neglect.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s voters go the polls on July 25 to
elect 111 members of the Kurdistan Regional
Government, KRG, parliament and the region’s
In Koya, the hometown of Talabani, the streets are
calm but election fever is running high.
The election has been enlivened by the opposition
Change list, which is promising to tackle
On a main street, a red sign states that Talabani,
whose Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK,www.ekurd.net
party is running on the incumbent
Kurdistani list, “is as dear to us as our eyes".
One hundred metres down the road is a banner
encouraging voters to cast their ballots for Change,
a breakaway faction of the PUK.
Some campaign posters are torn down or scribbled
Voters say they will vote on local issues such jobs
and services. The biggest crisis is a severe water
shortage – exacerbated by the summer heat and a
drought last winter.
Electricity is better in Koya than in many areas of
Iraqi Kurdistan, but infrastructure projects are
slow to materialize.
Incumbents may face more of a challenge because of
municipal issues, even though members of parliament
will be addressing regional topics and serving in
Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital, Erbil.
At the same time, politics is local enough that some
say they want Koya candidates representing their
Halmat Omsan Kakil, 21, graduated from university
two months ago and is hunting for a job.
He said he will vote for the Kurdistani list because
"many of their candidates are young, and two of them
are from his town".
Corruption and nepotism are big concerns for voters
but it is unclear whether they
will swing toward Change. Some PUK critics say they
do not trust the opposition list because it includes
many former PUK leaders who may have been tainted by
Koya mayor Kurdo Omar has met with coalitions and
parties, asking for calm in campaigning and on
As Koya is Talabani territory, she said, “It must be
an example of the rule of law."
Halabja voters say they want to move past the town’s
A chemical attack by Baathist forces on Halabja
killed 5,000 people and injured thousands more in
Reconstruction and services are among the most
The KRG has improved some of the town’s
infrastructure, including paving a main road, since
an anti-government riot in 2006. But many Halabja
residents continue to suffer medical problems,
services are poor and bombed-out homes stand as
stark reminders of the attack.
Party loyalists are visiting voters’ homes, pledging
to rebuild Halabja and provide medical care. But
residents of this Sulaimaniyah province town say
they have heard the promises before without seeing
much improvement. A local survey indicated that
voter apathy is high.
Islamist parties enjoy more popular support in
Halabja, a conservative Sunni town once run by
Islamists, than in many of Iraqi Kurdistan’s more
secular towns and cities. The PUK and KDP have won
over the town’s voters in the past, but Change list
is drumming up supporters.
Talabani and Kurdistan region president Massoud
Barzani, who is seeking re-election, have both made
campaign stops here. Still, incumbents could face an
Mohammed Faraj, 42, lost seven family members in the
He said he will cast his ballot for the Service and
Reform list, an alliance of Islamist and leftist
"I will give them a try for the next four years,” he
said. “The KDP and PUK have governed badly and they
have not fulfilled the promises they gave us in the
Economics is a driving force for Kalar voters. Dry,
dusty and underdeveloped, Kalar is home to many
victims of the Anfal campaign, during which an
estimated 180,000 Kurds were killed or disappeared.
Most of the victims were men from rural areas whose
widows and children continue to live in poverty.
Talabani, stumping for his PUK party, visited Kalar
in Sulaimaniyah province this month, drawing about
10,000 people at a spirited campaign rally. He gave
money to Anfal victims and pledged to establish a
The Kurdistani list is also promising to create jobs
and raise welfare payments to Anfal families, who
receive 300 to 350 US dollars per month regardless
of their family size.
Change has said it would make Kalar Iraqi
Kurdistan’s fourth province.
Change appears to be the main challenger to the
Kurdistani list, and campaign posters and flags of
both contenders dominate the city.
Service and Reform is also campaigning quietly in
Kalar. Twenty-four contenders,www.ekurd.net
including many small parties, are
seeking parliamentary seats in the regional poll.
"This election is unique because many different
lists are participating,” said Omar Abdulkareem, a
25-year-old undecided voter.
“They are competing with each other democratically,
so a lot more people will participate in the
process. The authorities have never faced such
opposition from the public and competitors."
Kamaran Muhammed, Falah Najim and Dilshad Anwar
are IWPR-trained journalists.
Copyright, respective author or news agency,
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