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US ambassador to Iraq urges KDP join Kurdistan's June vote

US ambassador to Iraq urges KDP participation in upcoming June elections as political tensions mount
4 min read
01 April, 2024
Some KDP officials have told local media that it is "highly impossible" for the elections to be conducted in the region without the KDP's participation.
Jumana al-Ghalai, the IHEC spokesperson, told The New Arab that they would not delay the vote. [Getty]

The United States Ambassador to Iraq, Alina L. Romanowski, is spearheading a diplomatic endeavour to encourage the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to engage in the Kurdistan region's forthcoming elections slated for June 10, as Iraq's Electoral Commission assures the timely conduct of the vote.

On March 19, the political bureau of the KDP reiterated its firm opposition to participating in the electoral process, labelling it as fundamentally flawed. This stance was prompted by the ruling of Iraq's Supreme Federal Court on February 23, which deemed the Kurdistan region parliament's minority quota seats as "unconstitutional." The court's decision effectively dissolved eleven quota seats designated for Turkmen, Christians, and Armenian minorities in the region, which had been established in the legislature since 1992. 

Romanoski on Sunday conducted a series of meetings in Erbil, notably with Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Nechirvan Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Region, and Masrour Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). 

A source within the KRG informed Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, that Romanowski is actively supporting efforts for a peaceful resolution between Baghdad and Erbil, and Washington's objective is to persuade the KDP to participate in the elections and retract their boycott decision. Additionally, they seek to prevent any further escalation from Baghdad regarding administrative actions targeted at Erbil.

In a statement from Masoud Barzani's office, it was reported that the US Ambassador to Iraq acknowledged the Kurdistan Democratic Party's concerns about election participation. She emphasised understanding of their reservations and discussions with UNAMI and Iraqi parties. Barzani appreciated US support and reiterated the party's desire for fair elections despite past obstruction.

He criticised attempts to impose "illegitimate electoral mechanisms" and highlighted ongoing efforts to "undermine the Kurdistan Region."

Some KDP officials have told local media that it is "highly impossible" for the elections to be conducted in the region without the KDP's participation, without clarifying further. 

The court's recent decisions stemmed from lawsuits filed by politicians from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is a rival party to the KDP, challenging the constitutionality of the Kurdish region's election law.

On Monday, the PUK and a main opposition party cautioned against delaying the elections and said such a step would negatively affect the Kurdistan region's constitutional status within Iraq. 

Political analysts from the Kurdish region warn of Turkey's plans for a military operation in Iraqi Kurdistan in April, with intentions to advance 40 kilometres into the territory to target PKK militants. Consequently, observers speculate that the KDP might exploit this situation to advocate for postponing the elections.

Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), which is supervising the region's elections as per Iraq's top court, said on Sunday that the deadline for the political parties to submit their list of candidates is over after it had been extended several times. The KDP remained firm in not submitting its list of candidates to the IHEC. 

 Jumana al-Ghalai, the IHEC spokesperson, told The New Arab that the deadline was late Sunday night and it would not be extended, affirming that they would not delay the vote and it would be conducted as planned.  

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She pointed out that two Kurdish coalitions, ten political parties, and 54 individual candidates have submitted their names to participate in the vote.

The KDP and the PUK maintain separate peshmerga forces and security and intelligence agencies. A bloody internal conflict between the two factions raged from 1994 to 1998, resulting in significant casualties and displacement of fighters and civilians alike.

Amidst ongoing tensions, the KDP is expected to prevent voters from accessing polling stations in its controlled areas within Erbil and Duhok. This decision raises concerns about the legitimacy of the upcoming elections and heightens the risk of armed clashes between the rival parties.

The parliamentary election held in the Kurdistan region in September 2018 saw a low turnout of 57% and was clouded by allegations of significant voter fraud reportedly committed by both the KDP and the PUK.