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July 25, 2009, Saturday

Toward a Talabani and Nawshirwan alliance in northern Iraq

Northern Iraq will hold both its regional parliamentary elections and presidential elections on July 25. While parliamentary elections were held for the first time in 2005, this will be the first time that presidential elections will be held in the region.
There are five presidential candidates. In addition to the most powerful candidate, Massoud Barzani, the other four men are Change List candidate Kamal Mirawdeli, Progress List candidate Halo Ibrahim Ahmed, Hussein Garmiyani and Ahmed Muhammad Rasul. Barzani is expected to win a crushing victory. In the 111-seat parliament, 104 seats belong to Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). There were 13 lists in the last elections. This year, 24 political groups, of which five are an alliance of groups, will participate in the elections. In total, there will be 507 candidates vying for seats in the parliament.

The strongest list is the Kurdistan List, which was put together by the KDP-PUK alliance. Barham Salih, the current deputy prime minister, is the list's leading candidate for prime minister. This alliance, which has more than 80 percent of seats in the parliament, is expected to sustain its strength at the same level in the upcoming elections. One of the most interesting actors in the elections is the Change List. Under the leadership of former PUK leader Nawshirwan Mustafa, Change appears to pose a tough challenge for the KDP-PUK alliance. The Change List is composed of people that have separated from the PUK and is well established in the Sulaimaniya area. But it may also win support from Dohuk and Arbil as a result of opposition to pressure and corruption. During its election campaign, the Change movement has especially focused on injustices and corrupt practices in the region. Thousands of people participated in a demonstration the Change movement organized in Sulaimaniya. If this group, which has views similar to the KDP and the PUK on issues such as Kirkuk -- being able to determine your own fate, oil and federation -- is able to win 20 seats in parliament, this should be seen as a big success.

The Change movement created a powerful opposition alternative unforeseen in politics in northern Iraq in years. Change may be able to win a significant number of seats in parliament and block the KDP-PUK alliance from becoming the majority party. It is believed Barzani may have suspicions that the reason for the Change movement's success is related to Talabani because Change movement leader Mustafa used to be an official in Talabani's PUK. It is for this reason that an alliance between Talabani and Mustafa may start a period of Barzani elimination and pave the way for Talabani to become dominant in northern Iraq.

Another important alliance in the elections is the Service and Reform List, which is a coalition of Islamic parties and leftist parties that was accepted as an alternative power to the KDP-PUK alliance. The strongest component of the group is the most powerful Islamic party in the region, namely the Kurdistan Islamic Union. Another member of the alliance is the Islamic Group in Kurdistan, under the leadership of Ali Bapir. The leftist leg of the alliance comprises the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party and the Future Party.

The hope to win more seats in parliament by acting together is mainly what motivated these four groups to form a coalition. This formation emphasized corruption and economic problems in the region, and it is for this reason that the coalition used the appealing name Service and Reform.

Other lists in addition to the ones mentioned above that will be competing in the elections are as follows: the Kurdistan Conservative Party List, which is represented by tribal leaders and is dominated by the Surchi family; the Kurdistan Islamic Movement List, which is one of the most rooted Islamic movements in the region; the Social Justice and Freedom List, which is composed of leftist parties; and the Progress List, which is led by Ahmed, Talabani's brother-in-law and the son of one of the most important founders of the PUK.

There is also competition among minority groups to win seats reserved for minority groups in parliament. The leading groups in this struggle are the Arbil Turkmen List, which represents Turkmen, and the National Rafidian List, which represents Christians and is led by Yonadam Kanna. The Heva Party has been banned from participating in the elections for supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

International observers, 17 of which will come from Turkey, will monitor the elections from the region. Elections results will have immense effects on the future of the region and political life in northern Iraq. It will be no surprise if the KDP-PUK alliance wins the majority of the vote. The number of votes the Change List wins may change the power balance between the KDP and PUK in favor of the PUK. 

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