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2005-01-31

Candidates on Kurdish Electoral Slate Include Former Baathists

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Kurds–who make up about 20% of Iraq’s population–voted in large numbers in Sunday’s elections. Pacifica reporter Aaron Glantz files a report from Erbil, the regional capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. [includes rush transcript]

While voter turnout was extremely low in Sunni areas of Iraq, it was a different story in the Kurdish north. Kurds make up about 20% of Iraq’s population and they voted in large numbers in yesterday’s elections. In addition to choosing a National Assembly and governing councils in the 18 provinces, Kurdish voters will also select a national legislature.

Pacifica reporter Aaron Glantz was in Iraqi Kurdistan during the elections. He filed this report.

  • Aaron Glantz, Pacifica journalist reporting from Irbil, Iraq.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now to the north of Iraq, as we turn now to a report from Kurdistan. It was Kurds make up about 20% of the population, voting in large numbers in addition to choosing a national assembly and governing councils in the 18 provinces, Kurdish voters are also selecting their own legislature. Pacifica reporter Aaron Glantz is in Iraqi Kurdistan. He filed this report.

AARON GLANTZ: Dozens of buses and battered Toyota pickups arrived in a small Kurdish farming village of Pir Dawut southwest of Erbil the regional capital of Kurdistan. The truck beds are full of Kurds headed to the polls. The buses are full, too, furnished with giant Kurdish flags on their outside. At 9:00 a.m., the polling station at Pir Dawut is mobbed. Thousands of Kurds of all ages mill around, waiting for their chance to queue up. Others push forward to try to get to the front, prompting local Peshmerga fighters to push them back, firing bullets into the air. Rashid Pirbal is a 70 year old farmer. He is dressed in traditional baggy sherwal pants and wears a checkered black and white kafia.

RASHID PIRBAL: [translated] We were killed by Arabs and they took our honor and now we feel like we are alive and we’re human. This is a different situation. We’re no longer under the control of Arab people. We are Kurds and we must vote for Kurdish people.

AARON GLANTZ: Kurds are expecting large gains from the weekend’s elections. Since Kurds are pro-American and the Kurdish area is more secure than the rest of the country, Kurdish turnout was likely to be higher than their Arab counterparts. After the election, Kurdish leaders plan to take control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a city which tens of thousands of Kurds were forced to leave under Saddam’s regime. Already, thousands of Kurds who were forced out of Kirkuk in the 1980’s have returned to the city. Today, 500 Kurdish families live in Kirkuk’s municipal football stadium, more than double a year ago. Hadi Ali Amin lost two of her sons in Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign.

HADI ALI AMIN: [translated] An NGO Organization has helped us with running water and some carpets. But we don’t say 'Amen' to these things. I have lost two sons and I can lose two more, but this is our grandfather’s land.

AARON GLANTZ: A week before the election, 100,000 Kurds, forced to leave Kirkuk during Saddam’s presidency, were given the right to vote in Kirkuk’s election. Prompting Arab political parties in the city to launch a boycott. Kurds demand that all Arabs brought to Kirkuk by Saddam leave the city and Arabs in Kirkuk say Kurds are now attempting their own campaign of ethnic cleansing. Perhaps the greatest irony of the election in Kurdistan, then, is the presence of Ba’athists on the Kurdish election slate. Like all election lists in Iraq, the identity of Kurdish candidates was made secret for security reasons, unlike other election lists, however, the contents of the Kurdish list became known when it was obtained by the independent Kurdish weekly newspaper Hawlati, which found, about a dozen Kurdish candidates were former Ba’athists. Ziraq Abdulla is managing editor of the newspaper’s Erbil office.

ZIRAQ ABDULLA: [translated] These are people who helped Saddam in his campaign against the Kurds. Remember that 182,000 people were killed in the Anfal campaign, which was done by Saddam in the 1980’s, including what happened in Hallabja and these people they have the blood of the Kurdish people on their hands.

AARON GLANTZ: Among the former Ba’athists on the Kurds’ election list are former members of Saddam’s village guards and the heads of Saddam’s Kurdish militia who, in the 1980’s, destroyed thousands of Kurdish villages, mainly around Kirkuk. Most Kurds found the report hard to believe, since they voted for the Kurdish list, specifically to put Saddam’s dictatorship behind them. Zorab Hussein was forced to leave Kirkuk in 1974 when the first Kurdish revolt against the Ba’ath collapsed. Now he lives on the outskirts of Kirkuk in a squatter’s camp with no toilet facilities. His 8-year-old son plays amid human excrements.

ZORAB HUSSEIN: [translated] You know Kurds are living in squalor. I don’t have a door. I just have a curtain that acts like a door so how can you allow Ba’athists to be on our list at election time? If you were in my situation, would you allow Ba’athists to be on my election list?

AARON GLANTZ: But Ziraq Abdulla of Hawlati newpaper says he is not surprised that Ba’athists have made it on to the Kurdish slate. In the 1990’s, the two leading Kurdish factions, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan fought a civil war. Both sides desperate to rule the entire Kurdish region, called on Ba’athists for help. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan called on Saddam’s Kurdish supporters, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party invited the Iraqi army to Erbil to break the stalemate.

ZIRAQ ABDULLA: [translated] As we know, the PDK and PUK are the most powerful parties in Kurdistan and in the past there was a conflict between them and each one went to the devil to deal with the other. So, those former Ba’athist people, they killed thousands of people. But because these two parties want to have more people and more followers, they try to work with their enemy in order to bring them against the other side. Now it is payback time.

AARON GLANTZ: On election day, though, Kurds had little choice but to vote for these Ba’athists. All the Kurdish candidates were running on the same list, called the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan. For Democracy Now!, I’m Aaron Glantz in Erbil, Iraq.

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