Saturday, November 21, 2009

Kurds being Marginalized in Iraq

  • By Mohammed M.A. Ahmed

In preparations for the elections, the Electoral Commission announced, following the passing of the election law that they had relied on population estimates received from the Ministry of Commerce in determining the change in voters’ registry and the distribution of parliamentary seats between provinces. Based on the number of ration cards distributed every year, the Ministry of Commerce had estimated that Iraq’s population must have increased from 27 millions in 2005 to 32 millions in 2009. By relying on the Ministry of Commerce’s estimates, the Independent Higher Election Commission decided that the number of eligible voters in January 2010 would be 19 million and that the number of seats in the new parliament would be 323, an increase of 48 seats over that in 2005. The number of seats in the new parliament was based on 100,000 voters per each representative. [1] The election law reserved a quarter of the seats for women and designated 5 percent of the seats for some 2 million Iraqi refugees abroad, 5 seats for Christians in Nineveh, Kirkuk, Duhok and Arbil; and one seat for each of the Yazidi, Shabak and Mandean communities. [2] More than one third of the bill, the modified version of the 2005 election law, detailed issues pertaining to elections in Kurdish disputed areas.

In the absence of accurate statistics, based on a census, it became guesswork to deciding the rate of the population increase at the national and provincial levels, rendering the outcome of the January 2010 elections speculative at best. As a result, following the passing of the bill, disputes erupted between Kurdish and Arab political factions over the modality used to distribute the additional 48 seats resulting from the population increase between 2005 and 2010 between Iraq’s 18 provinces.

The Kurds were shocked to note that, while 13 additional seats were allocated to the Nineveh province, with a little over 2 million population; the three Kurdish provinces of Sulaimaniya, Arbil, and Duhok with more than 5 million population, perceived only three additional seats. The Sulaimaniya province wasnot allotted any additional seat because they had assumed its population had remained stagnant during 2005 and 2009. Sa’adi Barzinji, lawmaker and member of the Kurdistani Alliance, told reporters that he was astonished to see the way the parliamentary seats were distributed between provinces. He said while Nineveh, Anbar, Salahadin and Diyala, Sunni Arab- dominated provinces, were given 24 seats, the Kurdish provinces of Arbil, Sulaimaniya and Duhok received only 3 additional seats. [3] The Kurdish bloc blamed this lopsided distribution of the additional parliamentary seats on the Ministry of Commerce for providing distorted statistics to the Electoral Commission, which had used them for the distribution of the additional parliamentary seats between provinces without any question.

Judge Qasim al-Oboudi, member of the Electoral Commission, announced that parliamentary candidates in Baghdad would compete for 68 seats; in Nineveh for 31; in Basra for 24, in Dhi Qar for18; in Babil for 16; in Sulaimaniya for 15; in Anbar and Arbil for 14 each; in Diyala for 13; in Salahadin, Najaf, and Kirkuk for 12 each; in Wasit and Diwaniya for 11 each; Misan and Karbala for 10 each; Duhok for 9; and Muthana for 7. [4] He said the minorities will be assigned 8 seats of quota. This amounted to 323 seats, as the Electoral Commission had announced earlier. The Commission said that 19 million of the total estimated Iraqi population of 32 millions were eligible to vote in the January 2010 elections. Parliamentary candidates in the three Kurdish provinces were to compete for 38 seats (12 percent of the total of 323), compared to 57 seats in 2005. The political power of the Kurds would drastically shrink at the end of the January 2010 in the parliament and the government in Baghdad. Based on the 1957 and later censuses, the Kurds account for 17 to 20 percent of Iraq’s population, putting the Kurdish population at 5.9 million and entitling them to 59.4 seats and not 38 seats in the new parliament.

Mahmoud Othman, member of the Kurdistani Alliance told reporters on November 14, 2009, that the Kurds were duped while discussing the election law, which they should not have supported in the absence of accurate statistics and a law to regulate political parties. [5] He said that the Ministry of Commerce had projected its population estimates based on the number of ration cards, which are badly distorted. He said it would be difficult to correct the inflated population figures in some of the provinces such as Mosul.

Faraj al-Haidari, chairman of the Electoral Commission, was asked why he did not increase the number of the parliamentary seats for the Kurdish region in par with other provinces, his reply was that it too late now to talk about this issue which he said had been discussed with the Kurdistani Alliance earlier. [6] He also said that he had relied on information based on ration cards provided by the Ministry of Commerce. When asked why Nineveh’s share was so high, he said that the province’s share would be still higher, 34 and not 31 seats, when you also count the shares of the Christians, Shabaks and Yazidis. [7]

Since the election law did not make any reference to the population distribution, some observers wondered why it wasn’t possible to adjust the population distribution estimates in advance of the elections. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Kurdistan Regional Parliament (KRP) should have closely monitored not only the Iraqi Parliament deliberations, but also those of the so-called Independent Higher Election Commission and made sure that the election law did not include any loopholes and that the source of the statistics used for counting and distributing parliamentary seats were reliable. Instead, the KRP expressed its mild reservation about the ongoing exercises only on November 14, 2009, six days after the election law was passed. KRG should have been on the top of the issue, which was detrimental not only to the future of its existence but also of the future status of Arabized and disputed Kurdish territories.

About 2 million Arabs, mostly Sunnis, who escaped the violence during 2006-2008 sectarian war by fleeing to Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Gulf states, are still abroad. [8] It was for this reason that Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi vetoed the election bill on November 18, 2009 and returned it to the parliament, demanding that the share of Iraqi refugees living abroad should be increased from 5 to 15 percent of the estimate 48 additional parliamentary seats. [9] If al-Hashimi’s requests were approved, it would give the refugees 7 seats in the parliament, increasing the share of the predominantly Sunni Arab provinces of Nineveh, Salahadin and Diyala and parts of Baghdad (at least 33 percent Sunni Arabs), giving Sunni Arabs an estimated 82 seats. In an effort to improve his own image in advance of the elections, Vice President Tariq a-Hashimi was trying to show that he was the champion of the Sunni Arabs and was trying to increase their share in the parliament by 7 more seats.

In the absence of accurate statistics, the political factions and government officials were engaged in guesswork and trying to manipulate each other. It was not clear whether the Arab-dominated government and parliament were knowingly manipulating the information at their disposal in order to undermine the position of the Kurdistani Alliance in the next parliament. Some Kurdish lawmakers unwittingly said that they would be willing to support al-Hashimi’s request provided that the Electoral Commission reconsiders the distribution of the parliamentary seats. [10] How was it possible for the population of the Sunni Arab-dominated provinces and districts to increase by such large percentages while 2 million of them were still in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East. [11] The officials were trimming the power of the Kurds and inflating that of Sunni Arabs, as the U.S. had been trying to do for the past several years.

On November 17, 2009, Fouad Hussein, President Massoud Barzani’s Chief of Staff, told reporters “If the seat allocation mechanism for provinces is not reconsidered, the people of Kurdistan region will be obliged not to participate in the elections.” [12] Anti-Kurd quarters were quick to accuse the Kurds of trying to delay the January 2010 elections. The KRG should not be intimidated by such attacks and do things that would serve the interests of their region.

Many Government officials, especially those in the Ministry of Commerce, must have been well aware of the pitfalls of using ration cards as a base for estimating Iraq’s population and for allocating parliamentary seats to Iraq’s 18 provinces. In the absence of a checking mechanism, widespread abuse of ration distribution must have taken place during the sectarian war of 2006-2008, during which more than 4 million Iraqis were dislocated, distorting the records of the Ministry of Commerce. Widespread corruption, unemployment and hunger may have further damaged the credibility of the Ministry of Commerce.

Furthermore, well-to-do families in the more prosperous and stable Kurdish province might have declined to accept handouts from the government. It might be for this reason that the number of ration card holders in the Kurdish region, especially Sulaimaniya, did not increase between 2005 and 2009. The Kurds should insist on replacing ration cards with earlier census figures conducted by the Ministry of Planning for estimating population increase between 2005-2009 for allotting parliamentary seats between provinces..


[1] “Al-Haidari: 19 Million Iraqi Yantakhiboo 323 Na’iban Lil al-Barlaman al-Jadid,” Ajans a Peyamner,, November 12, 2009.

[2] “Nuss Qanoon Ta’adil Qanoon al-Intkhabat Raqam 16 Li Sanat 2005 allazi Sadaqa Alaihi Majlis al-Nuwab al-Iraq Ams al-Ahad,” Iraqi Parliament,, November 9, 2009.

[3] “Kutlat al-Tahaluf al-Kurdistani: Wajadna Arqaman Lada al-Jihaz al-Markazi Lil al-Ahsa’a Wa Technologia al-Ma’alumat Mughayira Tamaman Lima Qadamathu Wuzarat al-Tijara Min Arqam Ila al-Mufawadhiya,” Ajans a Peyamner, http://www.peyamner,com, November 18, 2009.

[4] “Al-Haidari: 19 Million Iraqi Yantakhiboo 323 Na’iban Lil al-Barlaman al-Jadid.”

[5] “Mahmoud Othman: Tamma Khida’a al-Kurd,” Ajans a Peyamner,, November 14, 2009.

[6] “Faraj al-Haidari: al-Tahajuj Ala Kaifiyat Tawzi’a al-Maqa’id Ala al-Muhafadhat Ja’aa Muta’akhiran,” Ajans a Peyamner,, November 14, 2009.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Rod Nordland, “Iraqi Vice President Vetoes Election Law,” The New York Times,, November 18, 2009.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Al-Tahaluf al-Kurdistani Yadha’a Shroot Lil Tasweet Li Salih Matlab al-Hashimi,” Ajans a Peyamner,, November 14, 2009.

[11] Rod Nordland, “Iraqi Vice President Vetoes Election Law.”

[12] “Kurdistan Won’t Participate in Polls Unless Allocation Mechanism is Reconsidered,” Ajans a Peyamner,, November 18, 2009.