Secular alliance blamed for Kurdish
Islamists election failure
By Yaseen Taha
Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — The failure of Islamic
parties in recent Kurdish elections has provoked a
period of soul-searching within the two major
regional Islamic parties, the Islamic Union in
Kurdistan and the Islamic Group of Kurdistan.
The two parties only won 10 seats between them and
analysts and party members alike agree that a recent
alliance with secular forces seems to have backfired
at a time when a new political force, the Change
List, was rising to the fore.
The emergence of Islamic movements, or political
Islam, in northern Iraq dates back to the end of the
1970s when the Muslim Brotherhood extended its
influence into the region. In 1984 the first armed
Islamic movement, the Islamic Relations Movement in
Iraq’s Kurdistan, was established in the border area
Following the 1991 uprising Islamists participated
in the first elections to the Kurdistan Parliament
on a united Islamic List. The List only won 7
percent of votes and remained outside parliament as
an oppositional force. During the 1990s and early
years of this decade the Islamic movement fractured
into three groups: the Islamic Union, which declared
itself a reform-focused, civil Islamic party; a new
Islamic Group; and thirdly, the remnants of the old
In Kurdish parliamentary elections held in 2005, the
Islamic Union joined the Kurdistan National List,
comprising the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and
the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK),www.ekurd.net
and won nine
parliamentary seats. The Union also participated in
Iraq’s general elections with an independent list
and won five seats. The Islamic Group participated
in regional elections with an independent list and
won six seats. In national elections it joined the
Kurdistan Coalition and won one seat. The Islamic
Movement won no seats in either election.
However, for the recent elections the Islamic Union
and the Islamic Group came together with two secular
parties to form a new bloc, the Services and Reform
List. Prior to the election the head of the Islamic
Union, Salhuddin Baha’ Eddin, and the Emir of the
Islamic Group, Ali Bapir, both anticipated winning
25 to 30 parliamentary seats.
But when election results emerged, the Service and
Reform List had only won a total of 13 seats, six of
which were won by the Union and four by the Group.
Compared to their previous parliamentary positions,
the results represented a clear failure.
Initially the two parties blamed the results on
fraud and election irregularities, accusing the
Kurdistan List of manipulating the result. However,
in the end, the List accepted the results as they
Accordingly a period of analysis and reflection on
the electoral defeat has begun among Islamic
thinkers in the region.
Some observers, such as Kamel Mahmoud, an Islamist
writer and former editor of a number of Islamic
publications, say the loss is easily explained by
the union with secular parties which he said
disappointed their core Islamic supporters.
The fact that the Islamic Movement, which remained
independent, was able to win its first two seats in
the Kurdish parliament, has been seen as
confirmation of this view.
“The increase in the number of voters who voted for
the Islamic Movement is due to the Union and Group’s
alliance with secular parties, because people wanted
to vote for a pure Islamic list,” said Irfan Ahmad
Kaka Mahmoud, a leading Movement official.
However, in response to this criticism, the two
parties have been quick to defend their alliance
with secular forces, saying in a statement, that
“their alliance with the two secular parties is an
achievement in itself and an important objective”
and calling “upon their members and supporters to
back this alliance," saying it represents the best
way forward for the region.
In conjunction with the secular alliance, there is a
widespread belief that the weakening of the Islamic
vote was also caused by the ability of Nawshirwan
Change List to attract Islamic opposition votes by
presenting itself as the best vehicle for reform.
According to Dindar Najman, a member of the Union’s
political bureau, “the emergence of the Change List
had a big impact on Islamic voters.”
On this front the political positions taken by the
two parties in recent months clearly weakened their
standing vis-à-vis the Change List. As one example,
the two parties endorsed the recent draft
constitution despite widespread political and
popular opposition on the basis that it granted too
much power to the Regional President. According to
responsible for the
Erbil branch of the Islamic Group, "the ratification
of the Constitution was one of the reasons leading
to the limited number of votes."
Muhammad al-Hakim, a leading Group official
acknowledged to Niqash that many of their members
did in fact vote for the Change List. “We have
received reports and documents demonstrating that
many members of the party in Sulaimaniyah worked for
the Change List,” he said.
The loss of voters to the Change List prompted
bitter recriminations between the two parties.
Mawloud Bawah Murad, a member of the Union’s
political bureau, told Niqash that the reason for
failure was that “the Group did not fulfil its
On the back of these disappointing election results,
Islamic parties are now reassessing their plans for
the country’s national elections set for January
Dr. Muhammad Ahmad, a leading member of the Islamic
Union told Niqash that “there are many parties who
have called us and suggested we ally ourselves with
them and join their lists but we haven’t yet decided
with whom we want to join forces.”
But one Group official did reject a continued
alliance with secular forces, telling Niqash that
“at this moment we have no intention of allying
ourselves with the Future, the Socialists or the
It seems that the two Islamic parties do not want to
burn their fingers a second time.
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