Kirkuk: Arabs, Baathists, Insurgents and Turkmens United Against the Kurds
By SAM DAGHER
March 28, 2010
KIRKUK, Iraq — “Amazing” and “surprising” were some of the words exchanged Saturday by many jubilant Arab and Turkmen residents of this hotly disputed northern Iraqi city.
It was a sentiment echoed by members of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party operating clandestinely in the city.
All celebrated the stronger than expected showing in the national elections by the Iraqiya slate headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi. Mr. Allawi’s slate swept 6 of the 12 seats that were up for grabs in Tamim, a province that includes Kirkuk, according to results announced by Iraq’s electoral commission on Friday.
A coalition of the two ruling Kurdish parties, which is determined to annex the oil-rich province to the semiautonomous Kurdistan region, took the remainder of the seats.
Sunni Arabs, including Baathists and former insurgents who boycotted the previous elections in 2005, came out this time to vote for Mr. Allawi’s slate.
They were joined by Sunni Turkmens and more significantly Shiite Turkmens, who voted according to sectarian considerations last time.
Most saw in Mr. Allawi the appeal of a nonsectarian leader who could perhaps achieve a so-far elusive reconciliation with the brutal and bloody past. Many Sunni Arabs in Kirkuk have yet to come to terms with Iraq’s new realities.
“We are counting on Ayad Allawi and other patriots to alleviate the harm that befell our party,” said a Sunni Arab man from Kirkuk who identified himself as an active member of the Baath Party, but wished to remain anonymous for his own safety.
One other crucial factor that played to Mr. Allawi’s advantage in places like Kirkuk was the perception that he and other staunch nationalists on his slate would dial back the influence of Kurds and make sure Kirkuk and other disputed areas remained under the control of the central government. The slate received almost 40 percent of the vote, according to the results announced Friday.
Arabs and Turkmens accuse Kurds of having significantly altered Kirkuk’s demography since 2003 by moving tens of thousands of Kurds into the area, controlling entire neighborhoods and the local government. Kurds insist they are only reversing the impact of Mr. Hussein’s “Arabization” drive in past decades.
The Kurdish coalition, which was confident that it had received more than 50 percent of the votes and secured at least seven to eight of the seats in Kirkuk, ended up with 5,000 fewer votes than Mr. Allawi’s slate. One of the parties in the coalition, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, blamed this on “clear deficiencies in the voting process” in Kirkuk and other disputed territories, and said it would retain the right to contest the results.
But a senior Kurdish leader acknowledged that the coalition was harmed in Kirkuk by the loss of Kurdish votes to the new movement known as Gorran, or “change,” and to Kurdish Islamist parties and others.
“If we were together we would have gotten at least one more seat in Kirkuk,” said Fuad Hussein, chief of staff of the president of the Kurdistan region – Massoud Barzani.
For reaction in Baghdad see Tim Arango’s tour of the capital’s varied neighborhoods: ‘Celebrations and Protests’. In the rest of the country, our Iraqi correspondents have sampled opinions from around the regions.