Kurdish voters on Saturday packed polling places in Iraq's second election this year, weighing the promises of a new party that pledged to shake up the status quo by exposing corruption in the incumbent regional government.
The election appeared to take place smoothly without serious complaints from parties or voters, though two opposition parties raised questions late Saturday about whether soldiers tried to cast multiple ballots and whether greeters at polling places showed too much support for incumbents.
Those questions could lead to unrest in coming days when Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission discloses results, party leaders suggested.
Samad Mohamed, a candidate from the incumbent Kurdistani List, told Iraqi television that 80 percent of the region's 2.4 million eligible voters participated in the election. The Charge Party, which emerged as the leading opposition group, estimated the turnout at 55 percent.
The above is from Adam Ashton's "Heavy turnout in Iraq's Kurdistan for contest of new vs. old" (McClatchy Newspapers) and Ashton's back in Iraq and covering the KRG elections. January 31st, 14 of Iraq's eighteen provinces held elections. The KRG's three provinces did not nor was Kirkuk allowed to. Thursday early elections began for the KRG. These are provincial elections and also the election of a president -- incumbent Massud Barzani is running for re-election and facing challengers. Fu Yiming and Gao Shan (Xinhua) cover the conflict between the KRG and the central government in Baghdad and how "Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is already not on speaking terms with Massud Barzani. . . . . On August 10 last year, the central government deployed army forces to northern Diyala and ordered the Kurdish Peshmerga militia to withdraw within 24 hours. They even forced KRG staff out of their government buildings a week later, and triggered a final crossfire between the two sides in late September." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports, "Long lines snaked out of polling stations Saturday" which "attests to the enthusiasm generated by the appearance for the first time, of a viable challenge to the 18-year monopoly of the two ruling parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party." Tim Cocks and Shamal Aqrawi (Reuters) explain voting was extended for one hour today and that the Electoral Commission estimates a turnout of 78.5%.
They note the counting of ballots may take three days and spend a great deal of time covering the US-backed "Change" Party. Most reporters and outlets have either avoided "Change" or taken a skeptical approach. Despite the money spent (US tax dollars), no credible observer expects them to be swept into a position of influence. For the US, that was never the point. This was more of a learning experience for them, a way to test various theories and figure out how to best influence a future election should they feel the 'need' to in the future.
"Change" tried to present itself as homegrown but failed at that and, early on, the US scaled back plans of major gains for the 'party' and instead focused on utilizing a variety of techniques in different regions in order to gauge Kurdish reactions.
Some 'reporters' (not Cocks and Aqrawi) were encouraged by officers and assets to tie "Change" into some sort of global revolution and did so. If you saw those stories you know who the gullible and/or assets are. (Don't scroll through the last two weeks here. When friends at the State Dept passed on that news last month, I made the decision anyone who pimped the line would not be worth highlighting. We ignored them. Even while others -- hopefully mistakenly -- promoted them.)
Back to Liz Sly who notes:
Kurdish President Massoud Barzani touched on an issue dear to all Kurds when he cast his ballot in his mountain stronghold of Salahuddin. "I will never compromise on Kirkuk," he said.
The status of the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds regard as their capital, is at the heart of heightened tensions between the central government in Baghdad and Kurdistan that U.S. officials have said pose the most serious threat to the future stability of Iraq.
The election was fought mostly over domestic issues, and is not expected to herald a change in the region's long-standing demand for a swath of bordering territory, including Kirkuk, to be incorporated into Kurdistan.
All the candidates sought to portray themselves as fierce defenders of Kurdish claims to those territories. But once the election is over, some of the fiery rhetoric may subside, making possible a greater effort toward serious negotiations with Baghdad.
Violence continued in Iraq today. BBC (link has text and video) reports on the bombing of the party offices of Iraq's Sunni vice president Tareq Hashemi in Falluja which resulted in multiple deaths and wounded. Citing the Interior Ministry, Reuters counts 5 dead and twenty-one injured. Al Jazeera adds, "On Tuesday, Iraqi officials declared a rare vehicle ban across Anbar after two bomb attacks killed three people in the Ramadi, the provincial capital. The previous day, an explosion had killed two police officers in the city." In addition, Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed 1 life, Qahtan Ahmed, and left his son wounded, a Kirkuk roadside bombing which wounded four police officers in the latest targeting of the police.
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