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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 December 2005, 12:35 GMT
Tarnished democracy in Kurdistan
By Asso Ahmed
In Sulaimaniya, Iraq

Kurdish elector looks at campaign poster
Supporting the main alliance is portrayed as voters' patriotic duty
Political parties in Iraq's Kurdish north are campaigning to convince reluctant Iraqi voters to vote in the upcoming elections.

But while Kurdish officials say that democracy has flourished in their semi-autonomous region since splitting off from Saddam Hussein's central government in 1992, there is only one way considered acceptable to vote here.

"Vote for Kurdistan Alliance to maintain your destiny," reads a banner draped across the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan office in Sulaimaniya.

The TV channels and radio stations owned by the Kurdish political parties broadcast daily talk shows and interviews encouraging people to participate in the election.

The government and political party officials have been stealing our resources for years, so why should I go and vote for them?
Sadraddin Mohammed
Party officials describe those who do not plan to vote for the Kurdistan Alliance List as "traitors" and "non-patriots".

The Kurdish parties warn voters of the challenges they will face if the Kurds do not obtain enough seats in the next Iraqi parliament.

Boycott calls

"The next election will indicate our future in Iraq," said Kosret Rasul, the head of the high joint committee of Kurdistan Alliance.

"The next Iraqi parliament will make the laws which will organise the political, economic, social and cultural affairs of Iraq. In addition, it will set the problematic issues that have been postponed during the constitutional process."

An Iraqi mourner carries a picture of slain Sheik Norzad Taher, a member of the Guidance and Islamic Call group, during his funeral procession in Kirkuk, Iraq
Violence has led to calls for a delay in the Dohuk vote
He referred to the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which Kurdish leaders seek to incorporate into their autonomous region.

But not all Kurds are loyal to their political parties. Many people criticise their performance and the local administrations.

"I will stay home on election day," said Sadraddin Mohammed, a 65-year-old Kurdish man in Sulaimaniya. "The government and political party officials have been stealing our resources for years, so why should I go and vote for them?"

Some have even called for a boycott of the elections, particularly among the youth who make up more than 70% of the Kurdish community.

Kawa Aziz, a 23-year-old student at the University of Sulaimaniya, said that the regional government of Kurdistan had neglected the needs and demands of youth and believed corruption had spread throughout the administration.

Breakaway group

Criticism has increased against the two main Kurdish parties ruling the autonomous region in northern Iraq: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Recently, the moderate Kurdistan Islamic Union, which was a part of the Kurdistan Alliance list during January's elections, decided to break away from the grouping for the forthcoming elections.

In the past week, Islamic Union offices in the northern city of Dohuk were burned and looted. Four members of the Islamic Union were killed - one of them a senior politburo member - and about 20 others were injured.

The leader of the KIU, Salahuddin Muhammad Bahauddin, accused KDP officials of the attacks and called for the election to be postponed in the Dohuk area. KDP leader Massoud Barzani condemned the violence.

Kurdish leaders say that they have established a safe haven for democracy in their autonomous region since 1992.

They say their government is a model for Iraq's future. But the pre-election violence in the region does not bode well for the new Iraqi government.

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