Iraq election: What voters in Kirkuk say

Residents of one of Iraq’s most disputed and flammable regions explain who they will vote for and why.

Kirkuk remains stranded in a legal limbo between Baghdad and Erbil [Karlos Zurutuza/Al Jazeera]
Kirkuk remains stranded in a legal limbo between Baghdad and Erbil [Karlos Zurutuza/Al Jazeera]

Kirkuk, Iraq – A melting pot of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrians, the oil-rich province of Kirkuk is the mirror in which Iraq finds its reflection.

Eleven years after Saddam Hussein was toppled, Kirkuk remains stranded in a legal limbo between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish Region. A referendum originally scheduled for November 2007 was supposed to decide whether Kirkuk would be integrated into the Kurdish north or remain under the control of Baghdad, but deadlines have repeatedly come and gone, leading to an entrenchment of positions on all sides.

Kirkukis will have a chance to go to the polls for this month’s general election in Iraq, which comes as violence reaches its highest level since the peak of the sectarian insurgency from 2006 to 2008.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wants to win a third consecutive mandate, but no single bloc is expected to win a majority of the 328 seats in the Council of Representatives.

Al Jazeera asked Kirkukis what matters to them in this election, and who they intend to vote for.

Lana Ali, 18, student
[Karlos Zurutuza/Al Jazeera]

I hope we finally get the chance to celebrate a referendum and join the Kurdish Autonomous Region. That’s by large, the most prosperous and stable region in Iraq. The rest of the country is overrun by corruption and violence.

I’ll vote for PUK [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] because Najmadin Karim – Kirkuk’s mayor – has brought a lot of change during his mandate. The city infrastructures have been improved, he has [built] new roads, new bridges… Besides, as a Kurd I want to see Kirkuk integrate into the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq in the future.

Samer Ghassan, 20, salesman
[Karlos Zurutuza/Al Jazeera]

I think my vote is important so I’ll exercise it but I still don’t know for whom. Politicians lie, they are corrupt… As a Christian I’m supposed to vote for the Christian Assyrian coalition, but they have no power to change anything because we’re very few.

Us, Assyrians, are the oldest living people in Mesopotamia but more than half of the total Christian population has fled the country over the last 10 years. We’re being massacred by extremists and we still have no rights. The government just gives us peanuts, and the little we get is given to us out of mercy. It’s hard to be a minority in a country like Iraq.

Fozia Arab, 60, homemaker

[Karlos Zurutuza/Al Jazeera]

As a Turkmen I’m fond of the Turkmen political parties. I know they are my kin but I’ll vote for the PUK as a sign of respect for my husband. He was a Kurd.

Anyhow, I don’t know much about politics. I have three daughters and four sons. One of them is in Germany. All I care about is just my family and my house but I want to think that the elections will be good for everybody in Iraq.

Al Lah Ali Mehdi, 34, hairdresser

[Karlos Zurutuza/Al Jazeera]

It’s the first time I’m going to vote and I’ll vote Shia. I’ll vote for Nouri al-Maliki, like millions of other Iraqis. I’m originally from Kut, southern Iraq, but I married my Kurdish husband back in 2000 and we moved to Kirkuk.

Life is not easy here and security must be improved. It’s a very mixed area but you could say that we live together, and almost unbothered. My husband is a local Kurd so I have no plans to go back to Kut. My children were born here and I think we deserve to stay like anyone else.

Nachwandi Kassaboglu, 55, pensioner

[Karlos Zurutuza/Al Jazeera]

I know that the Turkmen Front is the most powerful party among my people but they work under a Turkish agenda. We are proud to be Iraqi Turkmen, but we are not Turks; that’s why my vote will go to the Iraqi National Turkmen Party.

In fact, I have devoted my life to political activism. I spent seven years in prison during Saddam’s brutal regime only to discover that the present regime is even doing worse than him. It’s appalling. So far nobody has granted us our rights in Iraq, not the Arabs, Shia or Sunni, nor the Kurds.

Dalshad Rasool Aziz, 50, university teacher

[Karlos Zurutuza/Al Jazeera]

Elections will be beneficial for everyone in Iraq. Us Kurds fought in the mountains during Saddam’s times for democracy; that was the aim of our revolution. It’s the third election in Iraq but we still remember the fall of Saddam as a dream.

I would like to see Kirkuk integrate in the [Kurdistan Regional Government] but within a federal Iraq as we are all Iraqis. Anyhow, I doubt we’ll ever have any chance to vote as long as the same people remain in Parliament. I’ll vote for the PUK as they’ve done a fantastic job over the last years.

We have new infrastructures, security is increasingly better and Kirkuk is much safer than areas like Mosul, Samarra… That’s probably because we have Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen among the police ranks. That’s the clearest proof that we have achieved our biggest goal, which is cooperation and peaceful coexistence.

Mohamed Sfwooq, 35, taxi driver
[Karlos Zurutuza/Al Jazeera]

I guess I’ll eventually vote but I haven’t yet chosen any option as all the politicians are a bunch of liars. Since 2003 they have done nothing for the people, only for their pockets. Both the economy and security are worse, and we even suffer from health problems that were unknown among us.

During Saddam Hussein’s rule we would all live like brothers but today there’s hardly any trust between us. It’s all about sectarian violence and we’re all trapped in this nightmare: Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen… As I said, I still have not decided my vote but I’m pretty sure that Maliki will win a third term.

Source: Al Jazeera

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