Iraq's Kurds vote amid rows, regional tensions
ARBIL - Agence France-Presse
Iraq's Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and his wife Nabila cast their vote during regional parliamentary elections at a polling station in Arbil, Sept. 21. REUTERS photoIraq's Kurds voted Sept. 21 in their first election in four years as their autonomous region grapples with disputes with Baghdad and as fellow Kurds fight bloody battles in neighbouring Syria.
The election for the region's parliament comes as turmoil roiling the Middle East has raised renewed questions about the political future of the Kurdish nation as a whole.
The Kurds are spread across a number of neighbouring states, where they have long faced hostile governments but have found increasing space to pursue their aspirations to run their own affairs.
Election officials began tabulating votes after polling stations closed at 5 p.m., with observers and diplomats reporting that the vote passed off largely without incident.
Iraq's election commission put turnout at 73.9 percent, with preliminary results expected in the coming days.
About 2.8 million Kurds were eligible to vote across the three-province region of northern Iraq.
Barzani's KDP clear favorite
The campaign centred on calls for more to be done to fight corruption and improve the delivery of basic services, as well as on how the energy-rich region's oil revenues should be spent.
An Iraqi Kurdish boy, whose
face is painted with Kurdish
colors, shows his ink-strained
finger at a polling station. AFP
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of regional president Massud Barzani is widely expected to win the largest number of seats, although it is unlikely to obtain a majority on its own.
"We have taken another step in the region to consolidate democracy," regional prime minister Nechirvan Barzani, the president's nephew, said after casting his ballot.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is in government with the KDP, however faces a challenge from the Goran movement in its Sulaimaniyah province stronghold.
The challenge has been heightened by leadership questions as the party's veteran chief, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, recuperates in Germany from a stroke.
Internationally, the focus is likely to be on the region's drive for greater economic independence from the federal government, with which it is locked in multiple disputes.
Arbil has sought to establish a pipeline that would give it access to international energy markets, sent crude across the border to neighbouring Turkey, and signed deals with foreign energy firms.
It has also capitalised on its reputation for greater safety and stability, as well as a faster-growing economy than the rest of Iraq, to solicit investment independent of the federal government.
All this has angered Baghdad, and the two sides are also locked in a protracted dispute over the Kurds' long-standing demands for the incorporation of other traditionally Kurdish-majority areas into their autonomous region.
The region has also become increasingly embroiled in the 30-month-old conflict in Syria.
Iraqi Kurdistan enjoys a high level of autonomy from Baghdad, and the regional parliament has passed laws on a wide range of issues.
It also operates its own security forces and visa regime and has control over an array of other responsibilities.
The Kurdish authorities boast that the region enjoys greater freedom than the rest of Iraq, but their human rights record has come in for criticism.
Ahead of the polls, attacks on Goran supporters left one person dead and several wounded.