Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Pro-Kurdish Minority Vote

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 25 March 2010 11:48

The big question concerning the 8 minority seats in the next Iraqi parliament is just how pro-Kurdish their occupants will be. Admittedly, of course, the 8 minority seats, representing around 60,000 votes and just about 2.5% of all the deputies in the next parliament, are somewhat marginal to the overall result. Nonetheless, with Iraq on its way to an extremely complicated government-formation process, every little bloc will be of significance – and with the small numbers involved it seems safe to assume that the 96% count can provide a reliable prognosis of what the minority-seat distribution will look like.

The answer to the question of Kurdish influence on the minority representatives seems to be 3 very pro-Kurdish, 3 quite pro-Kurdish, one anti-Kurdish and one uncommitted. Three of the seats are tied to a particular governorate – a Sabaean seat for Baghdad and seats for the Shabak and Yazidis in Nineveh. The Sabaean seat will go to Khalid Amin Rumi, who reportedly enjoys the support of the traditional religious establishment of the Sabaeans. In Nineveh, however, the Kurdish question comes into play. Kurdish nationalists prefer to define both the Yazidis and Shabak as “Kurds” but significant forces within those communities, in turn, would rather like to emphasise separate (and in some cases explicitly non-Kurdish) identities.

As a result of this situation, the Kurdish leadership has previously argued for a multiplication of seats for these minorities in the hope that some of them will be filled by pro-Kurdish representatives (which are heavily financed by the KRG), as seen in the attempt to ensure a greater minority quota in the provincial election law in the autumn of 2008. Conversely, anti-Kurdish forces in Iraqi politics have sought to limit the seats to one per minority (to avoid Kurdish financing of what is seen as “artificial” placemen that speak in the name of the community in question but in reality owe their position to the KRG), and were successful in this in the final iteration of the provincial elections law as well as in elections law adopted last autumn. However, even though the result is very close, it now seems the Kurds have been able to replace the anti-Kurdish Hunayn al-Qaddo (around 10,000 votes) with a pro-KRG candidate (around 11,000 votes). Among the Yazidis, however, the seat will go to a party that has a history of challenging the Kurdish claim for national leadership over the Yazidis.

The remaining five seats are for Iraq’s Christian communities. Originally, they were set aside for the five governorates with largest Christian populations (Baghdad, Nineveh, Tamim, Arbil, Dahuk) but during the final vote on the election law Christian leaders already represented in the existing parliament secured a last-minute addition stipulating a single constituency for all of Iraq. This had the effect of maximising the ethno-sectarian aspect of the vote, since Christians everywhere will vote for representatives that may well live outside their home governorate, with the sectarian identity as their only tie. Also, those Christians who do well at the aggregate communitarian level will easily prevail over candidates with more local ties whose support base is limited to a particular governorate.

Percentage counted 389




391 392 393 394 395
Basra 97 218 461 1219 235 237 93 44 2507
Maysan 98 110 69 60 146 219 38 59 701
Dhi Qar 97 352 578 86 131 131 43 30 1351
Muthanna 98 119 228 68 119 53 35 26 648
Qadisiyya 97 110 61 100 306 362 85 59 1083
Babel 96 191 446 572 90 151 54 71 1575
Najaf 98 118 51 79 189 357 63 24 881
Karbala 97 91 71 236 466 93 44 43 1044
Wasit 99 109 223 454 42 87 90 47 1052
Baghdad (1) 95 4538 2312 443 472 475 585 200 9025
Anbar 94 327 88 78 78 61 48 6 686
Salahaddin 95 131 416 124 87 47 50 19 874
Diyala 94 91 117 61 744 173 72 20 1278
Nineveh (1) 94 6080 7916 726 567 267 659 3452 19667
Kirkuk (1) 90 1447 396 378 108 78 133 49 2589
Arbil (1) 95 1708 2137 520 267 110 211 37 4990
Dahuk (1) 96 5728 3129 244 716 234 362 64 10477
Sulimaniya 93 252 64 40 187 106 40 36 725
21720 18763 5488 4950 3241 2705 4286 61153

***The Christian vote on 7 March, 96% count

The results demonstrate these effects very clearly. With a total participation of around 60,000, there will be an electoral divider of around 12,000 per seat. Looking at the results, only two big lists are anywhere near securing seats under this system: The Rafidayn list (389) headed by Yunadim Kanna, and the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian list led by Sarkis Aghajan (390), probably with 3 seats to the former and 2 seats to the latter, and with the other five lists unrepresented. It is particularly noteworthy that the two winning lists perform poorly south of Baghdad, where other lists do well but have no chance of winning seats due to the single-constituency arrangement in which their local majorities disappear in the final count. Another local challenger in Nineveh (John Joseph, 395) also loses out due to the concentration of his vote in a single governorate.

In terms of relations with the Kurds, both Kanna and Aghajan have a history of doing business with Arbil. Kanna used to have a close relationship with the KRG but more recently has tried to create more balanced relations with Baghdad. Accordingly, it is Aghajan that is today seen as the “KDP choice”. For sure, members of the exiled community of Assyrians, which is strong in the United States, criticise both leaders for sell-out to the Kurds and a failure to insist on the scheme for a separate Assyrian state in the north. But while both leaders have voiced an interest in using federalism to designate some kind of homeland for the Christians in a territorial enclave, Kanna has apparently gravitated towards the idea of an arrangement with Baghdad whereas Aghajan supporters have talked about annexation of parts of Nineveh to the KRG and decentralisation on that basis. (It has to be added that neither scheme is constitutional, since only governorates can serve as basis for new federal entities.)

The big losers in this, thanks not least to the election system, are the traditional forces among Iraqi Christians that have emphasised the religious aspect of Christian identity instead of the ethno-sectarian one, and coexistence instead of a quest for federal solutions. Historically, those forces were strongest among the long-established Chaldean community. However, ever since the arrival of the Nestorian refugees from Hakkari after the First World War and their project of imposing an Assyrian national agenda on all Christians of Iraq, the Chaldeans have been at disadvantage, despite their numerical strength. In the 1920s and 1930s, the British favoured the Nestorian Assyrians by using them as levies and in high positions in the security forces. After 2003, Paul Bremer sidelined the Chaldeans and promoted Assyrian leaders because his mathematical model of proportional representation allowed space for one Christian only and the Assyrians were loudest! Today, the preference for Chaldean-oriented lists in places like Basra can be confirmed in the election result, but the rules of the game mean that this will not be sufficient to challenge Assyrian hegemony within the Christian community as a whole. Of course, had it not been for the single constituency, Christian voters outside the five governorates with designated minority seats would simply have voted like other Iraqi voters, with Iraqiyya and State of Law as the most like competitors among this segment.

All in all, the Kurds probably benefited most from the minority vote, since the 3 deputies that will be firmly in their camp represent less than 30,000 voters, or less than an average seat in the competition over ordinary seats. The full results are expected Friday evening.

13 Responses to “The Pro-Kurdish Minority Vote”

  1. Thanks for this focus on minorities Reidar. I had a bit of contact with Kanna and Qaddo in 2005-06, and was impressed with both of them on a personal level, so a pity to see that the later, who headed the minorities council appears to have lost his seat as Shabak representative. At the height of sectarian tensions, I found that the minorities – particularly Sabaeans and Christians outside the Ninevah plains (and the very few remaining Jews) – had some of the clearest nationalist visions for Iraq, and as such I hope the 8 minority representatives are able to steer beyond “pro/anti-KRG” pressures and help build unity and reconciliation between all of Iraq’s communities. Just imagine an Iraq one day with a Sabaean president or a Chaldean prime minister…

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Justin, I agree, let’s hope we’ll one day get a Chaldean president of Iraq instead of a president of the Chaldean Region of the Nineveh Plains…

  3. Ali Wasati said

    Hi Reidar, whats the current state of Saabi people in Southern Iraq, I heard they are in danger of going extinct, that they are probably the worst hot community in Iraq. Its really, sad, have there been any return from those who fled,

  4. Reidar Visser said

    That’s true. They had hoped to get a separate seat for Basra, where they were strong historically, but the numbers apparently did not justify that anymore. Their decline began a long time ago though. In materials I have worked with from the 1890s they had been reduced to a small rural community north of Qurna. In the seventeenth century they were actually one of the main communities of Basra…

  5. bb said

    Reidar – the Iraqi Turkuman Front which won a seat in Kirkuk in Dec 05 ang got 11% of the vote – did they contest as part of Iraqiyya this time?

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Yes, that is correct. Some minor sub-entities joined other lists though.

  7. Ali Wasati said

    Hi Reidar

    Aparently the results are out, its meant to be 7pm Iraqi time. Can you please let us know the results as soon as possible, I’m stuck at work for ages and wont know the final outcome for a long time


  8. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, rest assured that I will report them as soon as they are in the public domain. Right now the press conference at the Rashid hotel has been delayed.

  9. Ali Wasati said

    Typical Iraq. Thanks Reidar, i presume its political interference thats the main cause. Do you reckon it might be delayed till tomorrow?

  10. “طالباني وعبدالمهدي يصلان الى طهران”
    From Radio Dijla.

    This is weird.

  11. Kermanshahi said

    Kurds might benefit from this Reidar, but that does not compensate for the way the system has been rigged against them. In total, Kurds took enough votes to deserve 76 seats, but they get 57. Based on population eligable to vote I calculated which governorates recieved more seats than they deserved and which recied less, only very few Arab governorates were underrepresented but 3 out of 4 Kurdish governorates were. Than the electoral treshhold has gone to benefit the Arabs at cost of the Kurds and this district system even if it was done fairly would always benefit the Arabs who have lower turnout than the Kurds.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Well it’s the distribution key the Kurdsih leadership itself voted for last autumn. Also, the Iraqi constitution stipulates a ratio of representation based on total population and not on electorate or number of actual voters.

    It has to be said that the results from Kirkuk throw some additional doubt on the characterisation of that governorate as the “fourth Kurdish province”.

  13. Kermanshahi said

    I know the Kurdish leadership voted for it and they’ve been under heavy critisism for it. Now I know the system is per population and doesn’t depend on the turnout (although this does go to disadvantage of the Kurds) but even then, I calculated (based on the number of people eligable to vote) what the average number of votes per seat should be for Iraq as total and it was 60,942. There were 6 governorates which were underrepresented, one of which was Basra (and that was only very slightly, their number of seats was correct), the other two were multi-ethnic/secterian Baghdad and Diyala and than Kerkuk, Hewler and Silemani. The total average for the 14 Arab majority governorates would be 60,374 per seat while for the 4 Kurdish majority governorates it would be 63,698 per seat and that’s without taking turnout into consideration (in which case over 40 thousand Kurdish votes are needed for a seat and less than 30 thousand Arab votes). I can only conclude that the system is very much against the Kurds and they deserve much more representation than they got. I live in the Netherlands, I think the system we have here where nothing but the total amounth of votes a party gets decides how many seats they get, is the best system.

    As for Kerkuk as Kurdish province, Kurds still won a majority of the votes while I read in recent newsreports that Listi Kurdistan has over taken al-Iraqiyya as nr.1 list in the governorate and that is with over 90% turnout in Arab districts of the city. But we have always known the province has a significant non-Kurdish minority, infact Saddam drew it’s borders to include an Arab South and than you had the Arabization campaign of the 70s… But Diyala and Salah ad-Din have significant Kurdish and Shi’a minorities while Ninawa has Kurdish and Assyrian minorites, we still call them Sunni provinces.

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