In Iraq, polling stations opened across the country on Monday morning for the provincial council elections, marking the first time since 2013 that citizens have cast their votes. A total of 38 coalitions and 28 parties are participating in the elections.
Of particular importance to the Kurds is the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk, where elections are being held for the first time in 18 years. Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens are contesting the elections on separate lists, and the outcome of the competition for 15 council seats will determine the fate of Kirkuk. At least four Kurds were killed and 15 others injured by Iraqi security forces in ethnic clashes in the city in September.
Kirkuk is an oil-rich and multi-ethnic province. It is located in a region known as the ‘disputed territories’, which are claimed by both the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi federal government.
The Kurdish community has a deep cultural and emotional attachment to Kirkuk, often referred to as the ‘Kurdish Jerusalem’, seeking to integrate the Kirkuk province into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, citing historical Kurdish roots.
In 2014, Kurdish forces took full control of Kirkuk, along with other northern regions including Mosul, the country’s second largest city, following an Islamic State (ISIS) insurgency and the withdrawal of the Iraqi army from the province.
At the time, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani declared that Kirkuk would remain under the protection of Peshmerga forces indefinitely, effectively placing one of Iraq’s most important oil-producing regions under Erbil’s control.
During the Kurdistan Region’s controversial independence referendum in 2017, the KRG decided to include the disputed territories, a move that was met with constitutional objections from Baghdad. Following the referendum, the Iraqi central government launched a military offensive in October 2017, retaking almost all of the disputed territories from Kurdish Peshmerga militias.
According to the Iraqi electoral commission, around 16 million people will cast their votes for 5,905 candidates by 6pm local time.
Of the 285 seats, 75 are reserved for women through a quota system and 10 are reserved for minorities, including Christians, Yazidis, Shabaks, Sabean Mandaeans and Fayli Kurds.
Official results are expected to be announced 24 hours after the polls close.
Security forces and internally displaced persons voted in a “special vote” two days ago.
Provincial council elections are supposed to be held every four years. However, ISIS attacks, security challenges and political instability after 2013 hindered the holding of the elections, and the provincial councils were dissolved after anti-government protests in Iraq in 2019.