Iraq's Election Campaign Especially Bitter In Mosul

In the run-up to Saturday's provincial elections in Iraq, the campaign has been especially bitter in the northern city of Mosul.

It's a mixed city, with an Arab majority and a substantial Kurdish minority. But it's the Kurds who have controlled the provincial council for the past three years. Mosul's Arabs are vowing to change that this time around.

Lt. Todd Kirwan of the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, is searching all the houses on one particular street. They are near what will become this weekend's two voting centers.

On this day the Americans are working with Iraqi army soldiers, all of whom are Kurdish. It's an Arab neighborhood.

The owner of one house, Abdul Khaliq Nayef, tells Kirwan that the area is safe and there are no problems. But as the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are leaving, Nayef whispers to a visiting reporter that he doesn't like the presence of the Kurdish soldiers in his home.

"It is really difficult to have them here but we are helpless," he says. "We really feel invaded. I expect 100 percent that come election day they will try and prevent us Arabs from voting."

Suspicions are rife and tensions are high on both sides ahead of the elections. Because of the Arab boycott in 2005, the Ninevah Provincial Council is controlled by Kurdish parties, despite the fact that Mosul is predominantly Arab.

The Arabs in Mosul accuse the Kurds of targeting the Arab population through assassinations and intimidation.

At least two Arab candidates have been killed ahead of the vote. Officials from the main Arab party in Mosul, known as al-Hadba, says its offices have been raided repeatedly at the behest of Kurdish officials.

The Kurds, for their part, cite a long history of repression suffered by Mosul's Kurds during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman says that more recently Arab Islamist extremists also have terrorized Mosul's Kurdish population.

"[From] 2003 'til now, we have had 2,500 Kurds killed in Mosul," he says. "That's a lot of casualties. That's a lot of people;127,000 Kurds have been ousted from Mosul. Kurds have suffered more than others."

The struggle for control of Mosul has involved the highest levels of the Iraqi government. Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly tried to purge the two Iraqi army divisions in the region of Kurdish officers to the outrage of senior Kurdish officials in his own government.

Sami al-Askari, a confidant of the prime minister, says Maliki is trying to stop Kurdish expansion in the North.

"Wherever there is a Kurdish population, they want the land to be part of Kurdistan. They are working towards that in legal and illegal ways, through creating facts on the ground, through political pressure and through illicit alliances," Askari says.

Those fears have been taken out to the stump, principally by the al-Hadba party, which is expected to do well this weekend.

Major Adam Boyd is the senior American intelligence officer in Mosul. He says that because the Arabs have been politically disenfranchised, the Arab majority has been — up until now — sympathetic to the insurgency.

"They run on a very anti-Kurd ticket, but at the same time they also run on a security ticket. They say that we elected back in and a good deal of the insurgents go away," he says.

The Kurdish parties, which are running on a unified list, know they will lose their position of dominance. Last month, Kurdish members of the current council tried but failed to postpone voting in the province.

On patrol with American troops, Ali Farouk says he is loyal to the Iraqi Army and its mission of protecting all citizens. But he acknowledges that the Kurds have bigger ambitions.

"We want an independent Kurdistan, of course," he says. "And we want Mosul to be part of that Kurdish state."

The Arabs here vow that will never happen.

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