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Iraqi election officials 'taken hostage by gunmen' in Kirkuk

Gunmen are reportedly forcing electoral officials to change the results [Twitter]

Date of publication: 16 May, 2018

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A 'hostage situation' has been reported at polling stations in northern Iraq, four days after national elections following an alleged dispute over the results in the multi-ethnic Kirkuk province.
Armed militants stormed several polling stations in the northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk on Wednesday, taking electoral staff hostage as they undertook a recount of votes, the head of the electoral commission said.

Riyadh al-Badran told Reuters that gunmen - who he did not attribute to any organisation - were attempting to force the commission to rescind Saturday's election results for the restive region, which has been fraught with sectarian tensions and ethnic divides.

"The employees of the commission are in a hostage situation," said Badran, and calling on Iraqi authorities to provide protection in the region.

The final countrywide results should be declared in the next two days, Badran added.

Kirkuk's Turkmen and Arab communities disputed the region's initial results, which suggested a win for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a historic Iraqi-Kurdish party.

Hundreds of Turkmen took to Kirkuk's streets on Sunday to protest against alleged electoral fraud in the region. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi subsequently ordered a recount of votes in Kirkuk.

Roughly half of Kirkuk's population is Kurdish, with around a quarter Arab and a fifth Turkmen.

Last October, Iraqi forces - backed by Shia Hashd al-Shaabi [Popular Mobilisation militias] - ousted Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from Kirkuk city. The Kurds had taken control of the town in 2014, in a successful bid to prevent Islamic State group militants from capturing it.

The Iraqi army's return to Kirkuk was largely welcomed by its Arab and Turkmen residents.

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