Iraq’s Kurdish region goes to the polls on Saturday, grappling with a swathe of disputes with the central government while fellow Kurds fight bloody battles across the border in Syria. The legislative election also comes amid questions over the future of the Kurdish nation, spread across historically hostile countries that have more recently either shown a willingness to discuss Kurdish demands, or have suffered instability, allowing Kurds to carve out their own territory. The September 21 vote is the first to be held in Kurdistan, a three-province autonomous region in north Iraq, in more than four years. It will see three main parties jostle for position in the Kurdish parliament, with long-term implications both domestically and farther afield. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of regional president Massud Barzani is widely expected to garner the largest number of seats.
But the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is in government with the KDP, faces a challenge from the Goran faction in its own backyard as it struggles with leadership questions as its long-time chief Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president, recovers in Germany from a stroke.
“This election may be even more important (than previous ones) for the Kurdistan region because if the KDP, for example, wins a big majority, they will decide the system,” said Asos Hardi, an analyst, referring to angry debate about the region’s constitution.
“A strong KRG (Kurdistan regional government) can be a strong supporter of all the Kurds in different parts of Kurdistan,” he added of the Kurdish areas of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran.
Special voting for security forces, detainees, prison staff, patients and hospital workers was held on Thursday, ahead of the main vote on Saturday.
Internationally, the focus is likely to be on the region’s increasingly strident moves in recent years towards full-fledged independence from Iraq’s central government.