Interview: Kurdish elections

Al Jazeera speaks to Masroor Barzani, Kurdish security chief, about upcoming polls.

Kurdish voters have been registering at polling stations throughout Iraq [EPA]

On July 25, more than 500 candidates from some 24 parties and political lists will run in elections for the 111-member parliament in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two main parties, have joined together to run as the Kurdistani List.

However, the KDP and the PUK, which have long dominated the political landscape in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, will this year be challenged by several new political alliances.

The Change List, formed by former PUK members in 2005, has been gathering support among the electorate as it calls for transparency and an end to corruption.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid, interviewed Masroor Barzani, head of intelligence and security in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and son of Massoud Barzani, the KDP leader and president of the KRG.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

Al Jazeera: Previous elections were contested between two parties – the KDP and PUK. This time there are more parties involved. Is this more of a challenge for the Kurdistani List?

Masroor Barzani: Well, no … because there were many other parties in the previous elections.

There is one other party that has been added in the election this time. I don’t think there are more challenges, there is pretty much the same number of parties that are participating, but it is a different era now.

People are free and there are different types [of political parties] which compete and I think this is what elections are all about.

The main contender is the Change List, a new party which recently emerged, and they have a message that has resonated with some Kurds. Don’t you think that its name is revealing of the political situation?

The name doesn’t mean anything. You could choose whatever name but then a lot of it has to do with the conduct or the behaviour and the agenda of the party.

The Change List is comprised mostly of former members of the PUK that had differences within their party and now are coming up with a different name so we have to wait and see for the results of the elections.

You say the election process is democratic, but there have been several reports of intimidation by security forces.

I think a lot of these are exaggerated. I don’t deny there may have been some incidents and some dissatisfaction from different people.

However, most of those who are criticising and accusing the government of misconduct and some of the allegations that they are raising, I think they are politically-motivated.

Many of the press [reports] that you are referring to that claim to be independent – I doubt that they are truly independent because they have already taken sides.

They are not objective in telling the story from all angles and they have already taken sides against the government, against the authorities.

Massoud Barzani is president of the KRG and leader of the KDP [GETTY]

But the electoral commission says it has recorded between 170 to 180 violations, and that a large number of them have come from the Kurdistani political list.

I don’t know. I’m not in a position to see those reports. I don’t know what they are talking about but in a general environment of the elections I think anything they do might be recorded as a violation.

Of course, there have been claims and complaints about the other parties, specially the Change List that you are referring to; such as honking at midnight, attacking people, beating people carrying the banners or the slogans of the Kurdistani List.

You have that from all of the parties. This is part of the election campaign, unfortunately.

If the electoral commission’s claims are true, then this is bad. We have urged over and over throughout our election campaign for calm and asked people to really respect the rules and regulations of the elections.

We have asked people to participate in this election, accept each other and refrain from any violence.

Why should a Kurd come and vote for you and the Kurdistani List?

I don’t think it is about offering anything different, but rather about telling people what is needed to be done from this day forward.

We have had a long struggle; we fought the dictatorship [of the former Saddam Hussein government] whenever there was a need for us to fight and we did our best to preserve the achievements that we had so far and now it’s a different phase of the same struggle.

We need to build and add to the accomplishments that we have. Now is the time to provide more services to the people, to reconstruct many of the villages that we haven’t been able to deal with because of the security and political issues especially in the areas that are called the disputed territories.

There is an intention to provide more services, to do more for our people, however much of this will still depend on the budget that would come to the Kurdistan regional government [from Baghdad].

A lot of what we hope to achieve will depend on the political and security environment of the region.

But people do complain about corruption and lack of revenue-sharing; there seems to be a bit of disappointment here.

Nobody can claim or say that corruption is something acceptable in any form. We certainly don’t support corruption; many of the allegations and dissatisfactions that you are talking about depend on who you are talking to.

It doesn’t matter if an ordinary person or someone in a high position makes the claim, the importance of the matter is that corruption should not exist.

Corruption is a disease that we have to basically root out. Nobody can say that there hasn’t been corruption and negative things, but the intention of the president is to stop it.

There have been serious efforts to look into this problem and hopefully regain the trust of the people.

There are a lot of complaints about forceful attitudes by the security forces, random detentions, and lack of freedom of expression. Are you aware of these issues?

I don’t agree with any of what you have just said. There is no policy whatsoever to randomly detain or abuse people. People cannot be arrested without a warrant issued by the courts or a judge.

As I said, these accusations are basically politically-motivated and the people making these allegations are tying to make a statement.

We have a legal system … we are not here to support one group or to favour one at the expense of the other, we are here to protect and provide security to all the people, regardless of their political beliefs and who they choose to represent them.

However, allegations are easy to make but hard to prove. I do want evidence of these allegations to be provided and see if there would be action. Any proven action, if it is wrong must be followed by legal action.

But Amnesty International and other international human rights organisations have produced reports in which they detail torture or rape in jail.

I cannot agree. I am not saying that there hasn’t been any misbehaviour. I haven’t heard of any of the rape and torture cases that you are referring to, at least in the areas that we are responsible for.

We haven’t had any of that. Torture by all means is absolutely banned and forbidden and anybody – anybody – involved in any of the misbehaviours of any of the actions that are unacceptable by international standards have been and will be prosecuted.

We are very thankful to Amnesty International or any of the other organisations for pointing out any of the shortcomings that might exist. We are willing to look into them, we are willing to fix them but I also suggest that when they come they don’t only talk to the opposition who have some political agenda to try and portray the authorities negatively.

I do want them to look at detention centres that belong to the government and investigate. We have courts, we have laws and no one is above the law.

But I certainly believe that most of what you have said has been highly exaggerated.

Source : Al Jazeera

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