Millions of Iraqi Kurds go to polls in key
Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — More
than 2.5 million Iraqi Kurds go to the polls in
presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday
as the region grapples with a land dispute with
Baghdad and tensions over oil exports.
Polls opened at 8.00 am (0500 GMT) and voting is due
to continue until 6:00 pm (1500 GMT).
president Massoud Barzani is widely tipped to be
An Iraqi Kurdish women casts his vote at a polling
station in Sulaimaniyah, July 25
his Kurdistan Democratic
and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union
of Kurdistan (PUK) are expected to sweep the
More than 2.5 million Kurds are eligible to vote in
the poll being held throughout the Kurdish region of
two main former rebel factions, which have dominated
local politics for decades, have presented a joint
list, including many new candidates. But they face
several challengers seeking to break their
Talabani and opposition party leader Nusherwan
Mustafa cast their votes in Iraqi Kurdistan's second
city of Sulaimaniyah, an AFP correspondent said.
Saturday's main vote -- more than 100,000 Kurdish
members of Iraq's armed forces voted on Thursday,
along with police, prisoners and the sick -- is
being held six months after the rest of Iraq held
Final results are not expected for several days,
however, as ballots must be collected in the
regional capital Arbil before being transported to
Baghdad for the count.
Tensions have heightened in the run-up to the vote
between Barzani and the central government of Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki over Kurdish claims to 16
including oil-rich Kirkuk, and parts of three
historically Kurdish-populated provinces -- Diyala,
Nineveh and Salaheddin.
During a visit to Washington on Thursday, Maliki
acknowledged that these tensions were among "the
most dangerous issues that have been a concern for
all the Iraqi government."
But he said he expected to resolve the standoff. "I
am confident that we will be able to resolve all
these issues not only with the Kurdistan region but
also with other provinces," Maliki said.
During the US-led invasion of 2003, Kurdish
peshmerga rebels who had fought the regime of ousted
dictator Saddam Hussein occupied many of the
The former rebels are now deployed alongside Iraqi
army soldiers, triggering a tense face-off that has
raised the prospect of armed conflict.
Barzani has insisted he will not "compromise" on the
longstanding claims to Kirkuk and wants the issue to
be settled by a referendum called for under the
Iraqi constitution, despite opposition from Arab and
Dyandar Zebari, who coordinates the Kurdish regional
government's relations with the United Nations, said
the next administration will also have to reach a
deal with Baghdad to share energy resources from
On June 1, the Kurdish administration began
exporting oil for the first time, but Baghdad is
contesting the region's right to sign contracts
without central government approval.
Disagreements over oil rights have hamstrung
exploitation of much of Iraq's massive proven
reserves and long-delayed hydrocarbons law,
prompting fierce Kurdish criticism.
Kurds are also increasingly concerned about
corruption, with many voicing support for change
after decades of PUK and KDP dominance.
Independent candidates like Mustafa, a wealthy
entrepreneur and former PUK deputy leader, are
working to break the PUK-KDP monopoly.
"We think that Kurdish society, after a political
stabilisation, now needs economic, social and
cultural reforms," said Mustafa, head of the Change
Five candidates have registered for the presidential
including Barzani, while 24 political lists will
contest the 111 seats in the assembly which first
convened in 1992.
For the first time the regional president will be
elected by popular vote in Iraqi Kurdistan, which
covers the provinces of Arbil, Dohuk and
Sulaimaniyah and has its own flag, national anthem
and national day.
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