07/24/2009, 00.00
IRAQ
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Kurdistan goes to the polls, Barzani set to be re-elected

Voters will pick the regional president and the 111 members of the regional assembly. Tensions remain high on the eve of the vote. The new administration will have difficult issues on its plate; topping the list are control over Kirkuk and local-central wrangling over jurisdiction in oil matters.
Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 2.5 million Iraqi Kurds are going to the polls tomorrow to elect the 111 members of the Kurdistan Legislative Assembly. Some 24 parties are competing with five candidates running for the regional presidency. More than 100,000 Kurdish members of Iraq's armed forces as well as police, prisoners and the sick voted yesterday.

Opinion polls suggest that outgoing President Massud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talebani will win by a wide margin. For decades the two parties had run separately but this time they are presenting on a single list with a lot of new faces to project an image of renewal.

Saturday's vote is being held six months after the rest of the country went to the polls in local elections. It comes at a time of heightened tensions and has been preceded by a number of related terrorist incidents, including attacks against churches.

The stakes in this election are high. The first issue the new Kurdish parliament will have to deal is the standing Kurdish demand to incorporate 16 disputed areas, including oil-rich Kirkuk and parts of three other historically Kurdish-populated provinces: Diyala, Nineveh and Salaheddin.

Kirkuk is especially important and remains a major bone of contention between local and national governments.

Equally important is oil. In early June the Kurds signed important contracts for the sale of “their” oil, a step rejected by the al-Maliki administration which claims that any action of this kind requires the approval of the central government.

The issue has become so heated that a tense face-off raised fears of a possible armed confrontation between the two sides.

Kurds, who claim the Kirkuk region as historically their, have called for the matter to be settled in a referendum and this despite opposition from the local Arab and Turkmen communities.

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