by Aaron Glantz
(IPS) ARBIL -- Ahmed Khani sips his tea as he reclines in a high-back leather chair, a sepia-toned portrait of the father of Iraqi Kurdish nationalism, the late Mullah Mustafa Barzani, behind him.
In the portrait, Barzani wears military fatigues and the traditional Kurdish headscarf. Khani is wearing a suit.
Ahmed Khani is the deputy local chief of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which Mullah Mustafa Barzani founded a half-century ago. Now, the organization is run by his son Masoud and controls the western half of the Kurdish autonomous area -- from the steep mountains along the Turkish border to the provincial capital Arbil in the plains.
The eastern half of Kurdish Iraq is controlled by the Barzanis -- old rival Jalal Talabani and his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
For this weekend election, Kani says the two parties have buried their differences and are running on a Kurdish unity ticket. And he is confident of victory.
"We expect to win 99 percent of the vote in the Kurdistan Parliament," he told IPS. "Perhaps 98 percent."
Kani can be sure of a commanding victory because nearly every political force in Kurdistan has joined his coalition. Not only are the PUK and KDP together, but Kurdish parties representing Islamists, Communists, Christians, and ethnic Turks as well.
Each party's representation in the Kurdish Parliament has been negotiated in advance: the PUK and KDP will get 41 seats each, the Communists 10, the Kurdistan Islamic Union nine, the Turkomen four.
"This is not like Saddam's election when 99.999 percent voted for Saddam and only he didn't vote for himself, so he could say that it's fair," the KDP official said. "It's not like that. People are supporting us. People are voting for us."
The different political parties have their own supporters and they are divided, he acknowledged. "But when all the parties are together of course they will get 99 percent of the vote."
That is not by itself a good thing, says Dler Mohammed Sheriff, a Communist Party candidate and a lawyer. "But democracy hasn't really taken root in Iraq yet," he said. "We should be arguing on the basis of ideology, but right now we think the case of Kurds is in a threatened position. That's why we have decided to be on the same slate as the Kurdish parties."
Underlining this perceived need for national unity is the difficult history of the Kurdistan autonomous region. After allegations of massive fraud in the first Kurdish parliamentary election in 1992, the two main parties agreed to share power equally, with both taking 50 seats each in the 111-member assembly (the other seats were reserved for ethnic and religious minorities).
But the arrangement did not keep the peace for long. In 1994 a war erupted between the PUK and KDP, with both sides seeking to increase control over the Kurdistan region. The war was brutal, and both sides called on outside forces for help.
"It's absolutely against democracy," university professor and human rights activist Farhad Pirball says of the unified election slate. "But this is a very important election for the future of Kurds. Kurds have different ideas and ideologies, but when we discuss the election, the more important thing is independence."
The reason that Kurds have made a united list is "because they think the most important thing is to be united and to ask and to struggle for independence," he added.
January 25, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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