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Iraqi Kurds head to the polls for new parliament

An Iraqi Kurdish woman casts her ballot in Irbil [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 September, 2018

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Early polls indicate that turnout is down considerable for the vote, which comes a year after Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly backed an independence referendum.
Iraqi Kurds headed to the polls on Sunday for a new parliament in the autonomous region, a year after voters backed an independence referendum that enraged Baghdad. 

Almost 3.1 million voters were eligible to cast ballots across three provinces in the northern region where 673 candidates from 29 political movements are vying for seats in the 111-member parliament.

But by noon turnout appeared to be low, with many blaming the regional election commission's new requirement issued on Saturday that voters show two forms of ID. 

Iraq's Kurds established a regional government in 1992 after the US enforced a no-fly zone across the north following the Gulf War. They have since been a key US partner in the war against the Islamic State and had hoped their role would boost international support for statehood.

But a massive "yes" vote in the September 2017 referendum for independence, deemed illegal by Iraq's federal government, backfired on the oil-rich autonomous Kurdish region.

Baghdad imposed economic penalties and sent federal troops to push Kurdish forces out of oil fields vital for the region's economy, depriving it of a key lifeline.

Kurdistan had enjoyed an economic boom after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled veteran dictator Saddam Hussein, as the rest of the country sank into violence.

But the emergence of IS in 2014 coupled with tumbling oil prices battered the region's economy.

Since 2014, Iraqi Kurdistan has borrowed more than $4 billion to stay afloat, according to some experts, and before the doomed referendum it had chalked up debt of around $12 billion.

The election is not expected to change the political map in Kurdistan, according to experts, but could shed light on the divisions that emerged after the 2017 referendum.

Parties that have long held sway are set to come out on top yet again.

The outgoing parliament is dominated by the Kurdistan Democratic Party of veteran leader and former president Massud Barzani -- who championed the referendum vote -- as is the government.

The KDP currently holds 38 seats, while its traditional rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), has 18.

The main opposition Goran (Change) party has 24 seats in the outgoing parliament.

There is only one new political party competing -- the New Generation movement, founded in 2018 to channel public anger at the region's elite.

The vote in Kurdistan comes amid major political shifts not just in the region but elsewhere in the country. 

Iraq is still struggling to form a new government after a nationwide parliamentary poll in May.

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