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Witnesses Describe Ballot Fraud in North Iraq

WASHINGTON (IPS) -- Reports compiled by the U.S. military in Iraq from its informants and by non-governmental organisations from independent Iraqi sources provide the first detailed picture of a campaign of ballot fraud by Kurdish authorities in Nineveh province, the key to the outcome of the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum.

They show that officials of the Kurdish Democratic Party bused non-resident Kurds to vote in polling stations in various non-Kurdish areas of Nineveh and created a climate of fear and intimidation in the province that reduced the vote against the constitution on the Nineveh plain. They also support Sunni charges of fraudulent vote totals in the province.

The constitution was formally adopted on Oct. 25 after the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) certified voting results for Nineveh in which the Sunnis mustered a 55 percent majority vote against the constitution -- short of the two-thirds vote needed in three or more of Iraq's 18 provinces needed to defeat it.

The accounts collected by the U.S. military in reports dated Oct. 15-19 were made available to IPS on condition that they would not be quoted directly and that the U.S. military unit forwarding them would not be identified.

The first-person accounts gathered by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Nineveh were obtained and translated by Michael Youash, executive director of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project in Washington. The names of the NGOs were not provided in the document given to IPS because of fears of reprisals.

None of the accounts reported by the military are from Sunnis. All of the sources quoted in those reports are either Kurds or trusted Assyrian Christians who have been advisors to the U.S. military on local developments and are generally favourable to the constitution. Thus they represent the view from those in the province least likely to have a political motive for depicting the referendum as rigged.

The reports compiled by the U.S. military include an account of the voting in Mosul by an Assyrian Christian source which observes that Kurds voted for the constitution but represent only a small percentage of the estimated 1.7 million people in the capital -- which holds roughly two-thirds the population of the province.

That account contradicts both widely reported explanations for the alleged failure of the Sunnis to achieve a two-thirds majority against the constitution in Nineveh -- that the Sunnis in Mosul were divided over the constitution, and that Kurds represent a very large proportion of the population of the city.

The final official vote total for Nineveh was 395,000 "no" and 323,000 "yes". However the IECI in Nineveh had told the media on Oct. 16 and again on Oct. 17 that 327,000 people had voted for the constitution and only 90,000 against, with only 25 out of the 300 polling stations in the province remaining to be counted.

Thus, between the two counts, 5,000 yes votes had apparently disappeared and 295,000 no votes had mysteriously materialised -- all from only 25 polling places. No explanation has ever been provided by election authorities for those contradictory data. The U.S. military's informant supports the view that Kurdish and Sunni vote totals in Mosul were significantly altered.

In the towns north and east of Mosul, the military's reporting suggests the main factor in distorting the vote was the use by Kurdish authorities of "flying voters" and voter intimidation.

Two different Iraqi advisers to the U.S. military, including one who is identified as a local political figure and supporter of the U.S. occupation, testified that the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) transported 500 non-resident Kurdish voters in a convoy of buses into the town of Bartilla, east of Mosul, to vote.

According to one of the accounts, election workers at the polling station were forced by a large group of Kurdish militiamen accompanying them to give the outsiders ballots to vote.

Nineveh Deputy Governor Khasro Goran, a ranking member of the KDP, personally gave the orders that the 500 Kurds were to be allowed to vote, according to the second account to the military. The KDP was said to be planning to transport these 500 voters to other towns on the plain. Although the source said that the local mayor opposed that plan, the non-Kurdish mayors in the area have no military forces at their disposal.

Bartilla was not the only instance of "flying voters" reported by eyewitnesses in Nineveh. According to an account from a local resident, collected by non-government organisations in Nineveh, a large number of Kurds were brought into the non-Kurdish town of Alqosh, north of Mosul, in more than 20 buses on the evening of Oct. 14 and the morning of Oct. 15.

An adviser to the U.S. military who obtained information on the voting in towns north and east of Mosul reported that the vote in the city of Alqosh was 950 "yes" and 100 "no". Thus the imported Kurdish voters apparently represented the bulk of the votes counted in that town. Those reported results suggest that almost the entire population stayed away from the polls, either out of fear or in protest against the Kurdish vote fraud in the town.

The same military source said 1,220 votes were recorded in the town of Telaskof, of which 90 percent were "yes" votes, even though he said the majority of the town did not approve of the constitution. Most eligible voters, according to the informant, boycotted the election.

In Telkaif, where 70 percent of the votes were recorded as "yes" votes, according to the military's informant, a local eyewitness in the town told NGOs that the voting center in the town was staffed entirely by KDP personnel, including an employee known to the source as a KDP secret police agent.

Elsewhere on the Nineveh plain, the KDP openly displayed its security presence at polling places. In the town of Sheikhan, according to an account obtained by NGOs, the KDP staffed the polling place with personnel wearing "Security Committee for Shaikan District" badges.

The predominantly Assyrian Christian town of Qaraqosh, in which Kurds represent only about one percent, was recorded as delivering a vote favouring the constitution by a margin of six to one, according to the military's informant. The informant identified fear of the Kurdish militia in the town as a key factor in the outcome.

Kurdish political leaders have made no secret of their intention to attach Qaraqosh and surrounding areas to Kurdistan, despite the small number of Kurds there. As the Washington Post reported last August, the local KDP leader said he hoped Qaraqosh would be ceded to the Kurds after the area "becomes normalised".

The same article said Kurdish militia have beaten up anyone who refuses to go along with their plans, and individuals have been arrested and sent to jails in Kurdistan for activities that include "writing against the Kurds on the internet".

Both U.S. military informants and testimony gathered by civil society leaders in Nineveh reported that the Kurds had spread the rumour in Nineveh province that voters who did not vote "yes" would lose their food ration cards. Many farmers and their families were said by the independent informant to have voted "yes" on the understanding that would ensure the renewal of their ration cards.

The picture of voting irregularities and fear in Nineveh sketched out in these reports from non-Sunni sources collected by the U.S. military and civil society groups support the complaints about electoral fraud by Sunni political figures. And they belie the official portrayal of the referendum as a step toward political legitimacy and democratic development.

By Gareth Porter

Gareth Porter is an independent historian and foreign policy analyst. He is the author of "The Third Option in Iraq: A Responsible Exit Strategy" in the Fall issue of Middle East Policy.


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