Ninewa is one of the most diverse and volatile provinces in Iraq. It is the home to Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, and Shabaks. The Arabs and Kurds are both vying for power there, and the small minority groups have been caught in the middle. In the 2005 election the Kurds were accused of disenfranchising Christians and others. For this reason the United Nations sent monitors from their Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization working with the Assyria Council of Europe to Ninewa to observe the January 2009 provincial elections. They recently released a report on their work that found the voting and procedures went routinely, but that many displaced Iraqis were not allowed to participate.
In the January 2005 provincial elections the Kurds were accused of violating the rights of minorities in Ninewa. The Kurds issued threats, refused to open voting centers, didn’t deliver ballot boxes, and took part in fraud to ensure their control of the province. The Kurdish militia the peshmerga for example stopped voting boxes being delivered to Christian areas in the Ninewa plains. Thousands of minorities were believed to have been denied the right to vote as a result. It was for this reason that the United Nations decided to send in teams to that area for the 2009 election.
Election monitors were made up of members of the U.N.’s Unrepresented Nations and People Organization and the Assyria Council of Europe. They worked in the Tellkaif and Hamadaniya districts of Ninewa. These were the same areas where minorities were disenfranchised in 2005.
The U.N. found that campaigning before the vote was free and open. In 2005 the Sunni Arabs boycotted, which allowed the Kurds to take control of the provincial election. This time the Arabs were enthusiastic about the balloting because they wanted power. The Kurds on the other hand expected a defeat, but wanted to minimize their loses. All sides used posters, TV commercials, and rallies to garner support. The openness of the electioneering showed the improvement in security compared to 2005.
The Iraqi Election Commission also launched a robust voter education program. They had materials in both Kurdish and Arabic, which were handed out widely. They also regularly ran TV shows on how to vote. Finally, the Commission also held public meetings to educate people.
The U.N. monitors received three complaints of possible violations. The first came from a parliamentarian from the Yazidi Movement for Reform and Progress who told a reporter in Baghdad that Yazidis were being intimidated by the Kurdish peshmerga after they complained to the Election Commission about violations by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Yazidis claimed that KDP officials were using military vehicles to campaign with, and employed soldiers at their rallies. A Shabak lawmaker from the Shabak Democratic Assembly told the U.N. that an unnamed political party was pressuring Shabaks to vote for them. The parliamentarian said he had filed a complaint with the Election Commission. Finally, on election day a voter claimed that he and others were given a ride to the voting center in return for their votes. None of these stories could be confirmed during the time the U.N. team was working in Ninewa.
During the election the largest problem the monitors witnessed were displaced Iraqis not being able to vote. One voting center was told to open two stations for the displaced immediately before the balloting. Those two eventually ran out of ballots. More importantly, over 100 displaced were not allowed to vote because they did not have their documents in order. As reported before, similar incidents were reported across the country.
Otherwise the monitors said the elections went well. Security was tight around the voting centers. Most of the voting materials were used appropriately with only minor problems. They did receive complaints about political parties attempting to manipulate voters, but none of those stories could be checked. The greatest issue was the disenfranchisement of internal refugees. It seems as if the Election Commission did not do a good enough job informing the displaced about how and where they were to register. They could either vote in their home provinces, or in their current residencies, but either way they had to sign up with the Commission. This did not get through and an unknown amount of refugees were not allowed to participate in the provincial election as a result.
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, “Iraq Report – 2008,” December 2008
Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization-Assyria Council of Europe, “Election Observation Mission, Nineveh Plain, Iraq, January 28-February 2, 2009” 2/13/09