Iraqi Kurds get the chance today to elect a new parliament and president for their autonomous region. Although the incumbent leader Masoud Barzani is expected to be re-elected, the campaign has highlighted voter concerns over corruption and a dispute with Iraq’s central government.
The oil producing region of Kirkuk, which Kurds consider their ancestral home, is a major issue. Barzani has vowed to annex it, threatening Iraq’s long-term stability. The row with the Arab-led government in Baghdad over Kirkuk has held up critical energy legislation in the national parliament. The fiery rhetoric is being seen as a vote winner for the current ruling alliance. The Kurdish Democratic Party and the Democratic Union of Kurdistan – the region’s most powerful parties – will run for seats on a joint list against 23 smaller groups. But critics of the Kurdish Regional Government have pointed to widespread official corruption, and an atmosphere which they say stifles dissent. Although not likely to threaten the major parties, the smaller ones are hoping for a strong showing in the poll.