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Opposition in Iraqi Kurdistan Questions Population Figures

Population growth and density have become a hot topic among the Iraqi Kurdistan Region's opposition parties, as changing figures will inevitably affect election outcomes.
An internally displaced Iraqi man shows his ink-stained finger to the media after voting at a polling centre during the country's provincial elections in Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of Baghdad, April 20, 2013. Iraqis voted for provincial councils on Saturday in their first ballot since U.S. troops left the country, a key measure of political strength before parliamentary elections next year. Iraqi politics are deeply split along sectarian lines with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government mired in c

In the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, the Kurdish opposition — specifically the Movement for Change — is questioning the recent population increase, abnormal compared with that at the time of the parliamentary elections in 2009 in the region and in 2010 in Iraq.

The Movement for Change led by Mustafa Nushirwan, which split from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 2008, is suspicious about the fact that this increase took place in Erbil and Dahuk, cities that are ruled by Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

The three opposition forces — the Movement for Change, the Islamic Group in Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Islamic Union — won 35 out of 111 seats in the Kurdish parliament during the 2009 elections. The seats of these forces were divided as follows: The Movement for Change received 25, the Islamic Group four and the Islamic Union six. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan List has 59 seats and includes the two ruling parties in the region, the KDP and PUK.

On June 9, the Iraqi Kurdistan parliament presented a memorandum to the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Iraq to shed some light on the population increase in the region before the Kurdish elections.

Tariq Jawhar, the media adviser for the speaker of parliament, told Al-Monitor, “Thirty-nine MPs of different parliamentary blocs presented a memorandum to the parliament to inquire about the abnormal growth in the population. The parliament, in turn, sent an official letter to IHEC through Deputy Parliament Speaker Hassan Muhammad Soura to inquire about the matter.”

Jawhar said, “Until now, we still haven’t received any response from IHEC regarding the memorandum.”

Movement for Change MP Ashti Aziz said that she has “documents that prove the unnatural increase in the population, especially in Erbil and Dahuk.” She adds, “There are 490,000 more people in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah. For this reason, we gathered the signatures of 49 MPs and presented a memorandum to the speaker.”

Regarding the collected information, Aziz noted, “It comes from different sources, and some information was obtained from administrative units in the Ministry of Planning.” Aziz indicated that the population increase occurred “through granting Iraqi civil status IDs and ration cards to Syrian Kurds who came to the region after the [outbreak of] events in Syria. This activity was mostly witnessed in the border regions adjacent to Iran, especially those that are part of Erbil province.”

Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution two years ago, over 100,000 Syrian refugees have gone to Dahuk province on the border with Syria and Turkey and settled there, while over 30,000 have settled in Erbil, in addition to around 15,000 in Sulaimaniyah.

Regarding the party accused of being involved in this case, Aziz noted, “The legal response to this question awaits the results of the memorandum presented to the parliament. The political response, however, is that the increase has only been seen in Erbil and Dahuk, despite new births being concentrated in Sulaimaniyah — which would normally result in a higher population increase relative to the other two provinces.”

The Barzani-led KDP controls most of the administrative departments in Erbil and Dahuk, since they are under the rule of members and supporters of the party.

The party was established in 1946, headed by Mulla Mustafa Barzani, the father of the current president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, who rules the region with his strategic ally, the PUK, led by Talabani.

HEC is getting ready for the parliamentary elections in Iraq and the presidential elections in the region, as well as the city council elections, which are scheduled for Sept. 21. Speaking to Al-Monitor, Serpest Amidi, the head of IHEC in Iraq, denied the abnormal increase in the population and confirmed that, despite that opinion, IHEC is proceeding with the inquiry into the matter and will inform the parliament of its findings.

Amidi added, “It is not the percentage of the population that interests us, but the number of voters. Currently, the preliminary numbers indicate that the number of voters in Sulaimaniyah was 1.2 million in 2010 and has reached 1.4 million today. In Erbil, the number of voters reached 991,000 as opposed to 869,000 in 2010. As for Dahuk, the number of voters reached 615,000 as opposed to 540,000 in 2010.”

Amidi clarified that the increase in voters in the three provinces amounts to 15,000 additional voters in Sulaimaniyah (an increase of about 14%), as well as 122,000 additional voters in Erbil (an increase of 14%) and 75,000 in Dahuk (an increase of 13%).

Regarding the memorandum presented by the Kurdish parliament, Amidi said that a letter was sent to the departments concerned within IHEC, including the department of operations and the department of electoral records, to scrutinize voter records. He added, “If we notice any unnatural increase, we will inform the parliament.”

Amidi also said, “The commission has its own electoral records that are taken from the Iraqi Ministry of Commerce and the citizens’ ration cards. Those records date back to 2007, and they have been subject so far to three updates by IHEC. Furthermore, IHEC doesn’t currently rely on the data of the Ministry of Planning, whether in the Kurdistan Region or Iraq. Instead, we rely solely on the data of the Iraqi Ministry of Planning to determine the number of seats for the municipal councils. The number of seats in the Kurdish parliament is 111, and for that reason, we do not need the data of any of the ministries.”

The Iraqi Kurdistan parliament's 111 seats include 11 seats reserved for the region’s non-Kurdish minority communities. According to the set quota, five seats are reserved for Turkmen, five for Christians and one for the Armenians.

The Iraqi Ministry of Commerce grants ration cards to citizens according to a form submitted by the head of the household. The number of family members, in addition to any impending births must be included. The concerned authorities must be informed of any deaths. This has been called a “ration card” because the beneficiaries receive  a ration of food on a monthly basis.

While the figures of the General Committee of the Statistics Department at the Ministry of Planning indicate that the noted population increase in the region was based on counting operations conducted in 2009 in the region in preparation for a general census. However, the Iraqi government has suspended the operation until further notice.

These figures do not indicate a significant increase in the population compared with 2009, when the number of inhabitants of the region was around 4.7 million people — 1.7 million people in Erbil, 1.8 million in Sulaimaniyah and 1.1 million people in Dahuk.

In 2010, the region’s population reached about 5 million people — 1.8 million people in Erbil, 1.8 million in Sulaimaniyah and 1.2 million people in Dahuk.

According to estimates by the region’s Department of Statistics, in 2011 the population of the region reached 5,131,343  — 1,929,114 in Erbil, 1,908,207 in Sulaimaniyah and 1,294,022 in Dahuk. In 2012, the figures were as follows: 5,363,710 — 2,044,635 in Erbil, 1,962,660 in Sulaimaniyah and 1,356,415 in Dahuk.

Abdel Hamid Zebari is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse. A reporter from Erbil who works in print and radio, he has published in local and international media, including Agence France-Press and Radio Free Iraq (Radio Free Europe).

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