As Iraq Polls Near, Deputy Speaker Warns Against Kurdish Divisions in Kirkuk

By RUDAW 31.1.2014 – KIRKUK – Iraq’s parliamentary election in April will do nothing to assuage Shiite-Sunni bloodshed, the assembly’s deputy speaker Arif Tayfur said, predicting the rise of some radical Sunni MPs and warning the Kurds against continued divisions in Kirkuk.

 Experts have already predicted dramatic changes in the Iraqi political map after the polls, which will take place against a backdrop of extreme tensions between the country’s Shiite-led government and the large and disgruntled Sunni minority. Following his speech at the European Council in Brussels a week ago, Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani told Rudaw: “There will be many changes in Iraq and Kurdistan after the elections of this year.” Tayfur said that, due to divisions in the Sunni and Shiite camps, a clear victory by either is unclear. “The Shiites are divided into several factions, and so are the Sunnis. But after the elections they will unite, and sectarianism will rise again,” he said. “There is not much hope for change. However, the Sunni participation will be high in the elections and some radical candidates might win seats,” Tayfur added.

The Iraqi death toll for January has topped 900, the worst since 2008, without an end in sight to the largely sectarian bloodshed. Tayfur also warned that divisions between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) could translate into a beating at the polls in Kirkuk, which he has represented in parliament for the past two terms. The two parties are running separately, not as a unified Kurdish front.

Running separately in the past, between them the two parties managed to win only six seats in Kirkuk. The Arabs and Turkmen, who ran together before but are running separately this time, also managed to win six seats in the previous polls. “Failure to run on a unified list will turn out very badly for the Kurds,” Tayfur predicted. “But if the Kurdish voter turnout is high, then it will compensate for the existing party divisions,” he said. Winning in energy-rich Kirkuk, large tracts of which fall under the so-called “disputed territories” claimed by both Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds, is essential for both the Kurds and Arabs. The Kurds see Kirkuk as the jewel in the crown of a future state. The Arabs want it for its huge oil and gas reserves.

“If the Kurds nominate qualified candidates, then I am sure that they will win six or seven seats. But unqualified and incompetent candidates will create very bad results,” Tayfur warned.

This time round, Tayfur is not being nominated to run from Kirkuk by his party, the KDP. He has faced criticism in Kirkuk for not visiting the city even once during his tenure. Tayfur denied neglecting Kirkuk. He said his office there had sufficiently carried out its duties, and that he has done more for the people of Kirkuk by raising awareness about the Kurdish population’s demands.

“We have increased awareness abroad about the situation in Kirkuk. We have sent the maps of Kirkuk and the disputed regions to President Obama in Washington DC. Also, during our meetings with foreign ambassadors, we confirmed the demands of the Kurdish people of Kirkuk,” he said.He blamed Arab blocs in Baghdad for the failure to implement resolutions about the disputed territories, including Kirkuk. Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which was to be implemented by December 2007 but still remains on the backburner, spells out steps to be taken to resolve ownership of the disputed territories. “The majority of the parliamentary blocs, especially the chauvinist Arab blocs, are against the implementation of this article. We will continue on our path until we achieve the hope of all the people of Kirkuk and the Kurds. Nevertheless, the obstacles are numerous,” Tayfur said. A bill introduced by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, to normalize the administrative borders of the disputed areas, also remains nearly forgotten. “The bill has been approved and sent to the presidency, but Osama al-Nujaifi, the speaker of the house, has halted it,” Tayfur said.

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