Iraqis to vote in Nineveh after four years

Sunni Arabs boycotted the last provincial polls in 2005, leaving them with only 10 out of Nineveh's 41 council seats.

Iraqis to vote in Nineveh after four years

Iraqis vote on Saturday for the first time since 2005 in a provincial poll that is likely to redraw the political map almost six years after the U.S-led invasion caused sectarian violence.

The election in two days could help stoke fresh conflict between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq's Nineveh.

The stakes are high in Nineveh in the north, an ancient battleground between rival ethnic and religious groups, which is majority Sunni Arab but some of which Kurds claim as their own.

Sunni Arabs boycotted the last provincial polls in 2005, leaving them with only 10 out of Nineveh's 41 council seats, despite making up 60 percent of the population. Kurds control 30 seats, despite being just a quarter of the population.

Sunnis are expected to turn out in large numbers to elect the 37 council seats being contested this time.

"The (Sunnis) of Nineveh will take part because they see the problems that ensued from not taking part last time," Mohammed Shakir, head of the Nineveh arm of the Iraqi Islamic Party, told journalists in the war-battered provincial capital Mosul.

"We hope this time the council is going to be far more representative of the province's ethnic and religious groups."

Tensions are rising between Kurds and Arabs in Iraq, just as the sectarian war between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims has eased.

Gunmen have killed two candidates here.

One party hoping for success is al Hadba, a new bloc that includes former Baathists. Atheel al-Nujaifi, the party's head, himself once a Baathist, is campaigning against the U.S. occupation but also against violence.

Nujaifi accuses Kurdish Peshmerga fighters of intimidation. "When the Kurds realise they are losing their power, they are not going to be reasonable. They will want to hold on," he said.

Smaller minorities in Nineveh -- like Christians and Yazidis -- have tried to sit on the fence but found themselves compelled to back whomever can protect them.

The winners will have to

Reuters
Last Mod: 29 Ocak 2009, 11:50
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