On 25 July, Parliamentary and Presidential elections were held in the three provinces that make up Iraqi Kurdistan Federal Region. The election campaign that lasted a whole month took place in a festive spirit, with great public meetings, concerts and televised debates. All the political, ethnic, religious and linguistic tendencies, through the parties that represented them, were able to express themselves freely and to campaign to convince the electors to vote for them.
On the whole there were no incidents, despite the heated climate in which the supported of Jalal Talabani and Nawshirwan Mustafa campaigned for their respective candidates, especially in Suleimaniyah. The elections, followed by 17,000 observers, including those of the European Union and the Arab League, took place peacefully and, in the general opinion of the observers, were transparent and honest, even if there might have been some suspicion of irregularities here and there. Indeed, the Iraqi High Electoral Commission, that conducted enquiries into the proceeding at 300 poling stations (out of a total of 5300) declared that the number of these breaches, at very local level, turned out to be very slight and in no case had any influence on the outcome. Representatives of the Arab League present also praised the exemplary conduct of the elections, presenting them as “the most transparent in Iraq”.
The official results, as published by the High Electoral Commission, are the following:
The electoral turnout was 78.5%
In the parliamentary elections:
the Kurdistani List (Barzani + Talabani) won a majority with 57.34% of the votes
the List for Change (Gorran) led by Nawshirwan Mustafa won 23.75%
the Services and Reform List (a coalition of small Left and
Islamic Parties won 12.8%
the Turcoman List 0.99%
the Kurdistan Communist Party 0.82%
the Islamic Movement 1.45%
The Presidential elections:
The outgoing President was re-elected with 69.57% of the votes
Dr. Kamal Mirwadali, an independent candidate living in London and supported by the Gorran list won 24.32%
Halo Ibrahim Ahmed (Talabani’s brother-in-law, a PUK dissident) won 1.4% and Hussein Garmiyani, a businessman, won 0.59%.
The Islamic parties have lost ground in comparison with the last elections, having won only 12 seats, although allied to extreme left parties in the Services and Reform List. In 2005, the Kurdistan Islamic Union had won 9 nine seats and the Islamic League 6 and the total number of seats won by the 4 parties of the coalition in 2005 (when they were not allied) was 18. Moreover, in view of the ill-assorted character of this coalition, it is far from likely that their representatives will all vote together on social and legal and civic issues.
Since the Kurdistani list held 63 seats and Gorran 23, the rest of the 111 seats are reserved for the Christian and Turcoman minorities, as provided by its Constitution.
Looking at the scores at local level, it is clear that Gorran’s breakthrough was essentially in Suleimaniyah Province, with 42% of the vote, as against 36% for the Kurdistani list, (which means essentially the PUK, as the KDP has little influence here) and 15% for the Service and Reform list. Consequently Jalal Talabani’s party has suffered a major setback in its own traditional preserve.
In Irbil Province, which is traditionally a mixed KDP-PUK region, the Kurdistani list won 65%, Gorran 17% and the Service and Reform list 10%. On the other hand, in the traditionally KDP Province of Duhok the Kurdistani list won 78% and Gorran trailed behind the Service and Reform list, with 3% and 9% respectively. This confirms that Gorran’s emergence is essentially the reflection of an internal PUK opposition that, for the moment, does not affect the KDP voters.
In the Presidential election, Barzani won 93% in Duhok and 68% in Irbil. This latter figure, very close to that of his Parliamentary List, implies that those who voted Gorran or Service and Reform generally voted for the alternative presidential candidate, Kamal Mirwadeli, who won 27% in the Region as a whole.
In Suleimaniyah, Massud Barzani won 46%, although this is the province where the opposition to the Kurdistani list was strongest. This suggests that 10% of those who did not vote for the Kurdistan list nevertheless voted for Barzani, mainly the electorate of the smaller religious and Left parties.
He had hardly been re-elected when Massud Barzani announced, following the arrival of the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki had been invited to Kurdistan “to discuss and settle all the problems between ourselves and Baghdad. We have told the Americans that the pending problems with Baghdad must be settled in accordance with the Constitution”.
Indeed, the latest proposals by UNO for power sharing in Kirkuk without taking into account the results of future elections to the Provincial Council met with outright rejection from the Kurdish president, who described the UN solution as “unrealistic” even though supported by the United States: “We will not accept any alternative to Article 140, whether it comes from the United Nations or from anyone”, repeated President Barzani.
Switzerland, Germany and Austria have announced the definite dropping of their support for financing the building of the Ilisu Dam, which would drown this valley as well as the town of Hasankeyf, which is rich in medieval and ancient sites. At the beginning of the month the Swiss Export Credit Insurance (SERV) finally and definitely withdrew from it. In all, it is a contribution of 225 Swiss Francs that the Swiss companies Alstom Suisse; Maggia, Stucki and Colenko are withdrawing from the project and the 531 millions that all the European investors were due to grant the dam project are now lacking.
The withdrawal by SERV is no surprise after the six months ultimatum that it had sent Turkey, requiring the latter to provide adequate guarantees regarding the dam’s effect on the displacement of population and their equitable compensation and rehousing, as well as for the ecological disturbances, in accordance with the international criteria (150) in a satisfactory manner. SERV acknowledged some “progress”, but not enough to allow it to remain part of the project. The time limit expired at midnight on 6 July.
This decision was welcomed as a great victory by many NGOs and Swiss elected officers like Merlies Bänziger (Greens): “This NO to Ilisu is a YES for the protection of the environment, a YES for respecting minorities and to social standards”.
Doris Leuthard, who runs the Federal Economics Department, spoke of the “very hard decision”, pointing out that the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ali Baba Can had been warned some months earlier of this most probable outcome to the case.
Despite this loss of business, the Swiss firms involved have not criticised this decision, which they themselves had considered inevitable. Christophe Darbellay, within the Commission for the Economy and Taxes, put forward principled arguments: “Switzerland has involved itself very considerably in trying to make this project possible but it was not possible to do otherwise. Economics without morality and without ethics is indefensible”.
Turkey obviously expressed it disapproval, stating that it would continue building the dam at all costs. Some suggest that Chinese or Russian firms, coming from less scrupulous countries in ecological or human rights matters, might take over the project. Thus the Turkish Minister for the Environment declared: “Turkey considers the project of building the Ilisu dam as a key part of its projects in Anatolia and as a spearhead of its social development. We want to stress that our determination to build the Ilisu dam is not weakening”.
Last December, the works, began in August 2008, were frozen when the Insurers Euler Hermes, Osterreighische Kontrolbank and Schweizerische Exportrisikoversicherung had declared in a joint communiqué “the contractual conditions agreed regarding the environment, the cultural heritage and rehousing had not been met”.
Inside Turkey society itself, various voices are being heard in favour of the preservation of Hasankeyf, like the two writers Yasar Kemal and Orban Pamuk.
Iraq, that is already suffering sever water shortages, had also asked the European companies to withdraw from the project. The Baghdad government, moreover, has asked for the holding of “an urgent meeting attended by Ministers and experts of the three countries concerned next August, to discuss water sharing and the fluctuating flows in Iraq” because of the dramatic drop of the Euphrates, particularly in the regions bordering on Syria, where a drop of 250 m3/s has been recorded, despite the opening of valves of some Turkish dams to increase the flows to 570 m3/s, and the promise that in July the flows would rise to 715 m3/s. The Iraqi Minister for Water Resources, for his part, pointed out that his country needed a flow rate of “at least 500 m3/s from the Euphrates for irrigation purposes”.
For the last two years, a major drought, due to insufficient rainfall, has provoked a rural exodus in Iraq, particularly among the “marshland Arabs” in the South. “Eighty families have recently left the Abu Zark marshes, East of Nassiriyah, in the South of the country”, stated Ali Radad, the official responsible for agricultural projects in Dhi Qar Province, to the AFP news agency.
Jamal al-Balikh, member of the Iraqi Parliamentary Commission on Water and Agriculture, sees here the traditional method used by Turkey against neighbours that it accuses of sheltering the PKK — in Syria until 1999 and now Iraq. As a reprisal, the Iraqi Members of Parliament refused to ratify a trade agreement reached with the Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, in April 2009. As the Iraqi M.P. for the Fadilla Party, Karim al-Yaacubi, explained: “The members of parliament refused to ratify this agreement so long as it lacks a clause ensuring Iraq its share of water”.
In Iran the protest movement is not weakening, demonstrations are taking place in series both to denounce the June elections and now, also, to extol the memory of victims or to demand the release of prisoners. Thus on 15 Jul, 3,000 people marched in Saadat Abad. However, the movement is spreading well beyond the capital since, on the same day, in the Kurdish town of Kermanshah, 6,000 people paid tribute to a Kurdish student, Kianoosh Assa, a native of that town, who died while being tortured. The crowd was violently attacked by the police.
The Kurdish regions are thus experiencing an intensification of persecution, repression and demonstrations now being added to the habitual round of imprisonments and executions for dissenting political or religious opinions or activity in favour of human rights or feminism.
Thus on 15 July, an Ahl-é Haqq (a Kurdish non-Moslem minority) was executed in the Urmiah main prison. Yunes Aghayan, a native of Miandoab, was accused of being “an enemy of God” (mohareb) a charge that carries the death sentence, which was the final fate of this prisoner after five years detention.
Another Kurdish prisoner sentenced to death, the journalist Adnan Hassenpour, after his original sentence was quashed on appeal last year, was retried and sentenced to ten years imprisonment by the Sanandaj court. Reporters sans Frontières has attacked “the sentence as absurd and unfounded” and demanded his immediate release.
On 16 July 2007, Adnan Hassenpour was sentenced to death by the Mariwan revolutionary court for “subversive actions against national security and separatist propaganda”. After this sentence had been confirmed on appeal on 22 October 2007, the Teheran Supreme Court quashed the sentence last August on a procedural error, considering that he was not “an enemy of God” (mohareb), which saved him from capital punishment.
The detainee was, therefore, retried by a regular Sanandaj court. After being heard twice by the judges, on 6 September 2008 and 30 January 2009, he has just been sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Adnan Hassanpour is, at the moment still detained in Sanandaj.
Another Kurdish journalist, Hiwa Botimar, arrested for “detention and sale of arms” has been sentenced to eleven years jail.
Their lawyer, is attacking the disproportional sentences and appealing.
Meanwhile, in Teheran, the authorities and the leaders of the protest movement are clashing verbally. Mir Hossein Moussavi is this described as a US agent and of “crimes against the nation” by the Supreme Guide’s entourage.
Thus Hossein Shariatmadari wrote in and editorial for the conservative daily Keyhan: “We must ask ourselves if these actions were not in reply to instructions from the American authorities”. This close advisor of Ayatollah Khamenei accuses Mousavi of “murder of innocent people, having incited riots, cooperating with foreigners and acting as an American fifth Column in the country”. He calls for his trial, as well as that of former President Mohammad Khatami for “horrible crimes and treason”, claiming to possess “irrefutable documents” backing his charges.
After the arrest of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a close relative of the defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who had publicly given way, like many political prisoners, to political “confessions and public repentance” worthy of the major Stalinist trials, other political public figures or journalists have been detained and threatened with trial for “breaches of national security”.
Saleh Nikbakht, the lawyer representing the journalist, Maziar Bahari, has attacked the conditions in which these arrests have taken place and the impossibility for the defence to see their clients: “Bahari is accused of acting against national security and I have not yet been able to see him, although I have gone to the public prosecutors office several times”. This lawyer is defending several reformers, former officials of Khatami’s government, who have been in prison since 12 June last, all facing the same charges: the former assistant of the Foreign Minister, Mohsen Amizadeh, the former government spokesman Abdolah Ramezanzadeh, the former assistant of the Minister of the Economy, Mohsen Safai-Farahani, the former Vice-President Mihammad Ali Abtahi, and Behzad Nabavi, former assistant Speaker of the Parliament between 2000 and 2004.
“I have not been able to see any of them, and neither Safai-Farahani nor Nabavi have been allowed contact with their families”, declared Saleh Nikbakht, with concern.
In addition to Maziar Bahari, an Iranian of Canadian nationality, detained since 21 June, the authorities have arrested a Greek of British nationality, working for the Washington Post and expelled Jin Leyne of the BBC.
However, this repression of reformers is not preventing the protest movement from spreading to quite unexpected circles of the Iranian hierarchy. Thus on 5 July, the most important group of clerics on Iran, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom, described the June election and the government as “illegitimate” in a common declaration. This constitutes an act of defiance and a slap in the face for the Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei, who has supported Mahmud Ahmedinjad from the very start.
“This split in the clerical establishment and the fact that they have taken the side of the people and of Mussavi is, in my view, the biggest historic split in the Islamic Republic’s thirty years in power”, estimates Abbas Milani, Director of the Department of Iranian Studies at Stanford University. “It should be remembered that they have opposed an election validated and sanctified by Khamenei”
This declaration was made a day after Hossein Mussavi published documents on his Web site detailing the fraudulent campaign waged by the president’s supporters, including the printing of 20 million ballot papers and stuffing the ballot boxes with them.
Hitherto the powerful Qom clergy had remained silent in the conflict between the Iranian street and the government. Their stand can be seen as being in open support of Mussavi, Karrubi and Khatami, all three accused of treason by the circles in power and threatened with arrest. Moreover this Association had not officially supported any of the candidates in the election, limiting themselves to calling for them to be annulled because they were contested by the electors.
On 22 July, the Turkish Prime Minister announced that he wished to set up a process of openness so as to resolve the Kurdish question by initiating a “plan” of which, for the moment, nothing is known except the outlines. The nationalist opposition parties, such as the CHP and the HP, naturally criticised the statement. It was, however, more favourably received by the pro-Kurdish DTP, which judged it “rather late but promising” as well as other political actors and activists such as some trade unions and NGOs.
The nationalist opposition intensified its criticisms as the government's intentions became clearer. The leader of the extreme Right MHP, Devlet Bahceli, accused the leaders of the ALP of “legitimising the PKK’s separatism” and of threatening “Turkey’s national existence”. The CHP, a traditionally Left secular party whose political line has become increasingly nationalist under the leadership of Denis Baykal, also warned that such advances could “harm the unity of the State”.
This plan embodies proposals already made by the AKP government and relatively consensual, such as the economic development of the Kurdish regions, but also other more controversial ones such as the teaching of Kurdish as an option in primary schools or calling into question Turkish ethnic identity as an integral characteristic of citizenship (Art. 60 of the Constitution).
In parallel, Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, also announced he was preparing a draft resolution on the Kurdish question, which would be revealed on 15 August, the anniversary date of the beginning of the PKK’s armed struggle. This has led some political observers to say that Erdogan may have the intention of forestalling the PKK. Murat Karayilan, in any case, is being caution in his reactions, stating, naturally, that the Kurdish question cannot be separated from the question of Ocalan’s release and that the party was waiting for its leader’s plan.
Within the DTP and its sympathisers, the reactions are more varied. Some Members of Parliament, like Ahmet Turk, the leader of the DTP Parliamentary Group, or Akin Birdal, former President of the Turkish Human Rights League, or Aysel Tugluk, formerly Ocalan’s lawyer, think that Erdogan’s “gesture” could be an opportunity for a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish question and should be seized. A more radical wing of the party, with spokesmen such as Selahattin Demirtas, adopts a position closer to that of the PKK, refusing to dissociate peace from the fate of Ocalan.
At the same time, Ahmet Turk has called on the government to cease military operations against the PKK as a proof of the sincerity of its wish to negotiate. On the other hand, during the recent tripartite meeting, Turkey reiterated its demand to the United States and Iraq for “concrete results” in eradicating the PKK from its Qandil Mountain bases. On 15 July the OKK armed forces announced that they were extending their cease-fire to 1 September.