December 11, 2005

Commission Finds Irregularities in Iraqi Voter Registration


New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 11 - With just four days to go until parliamentary elections, the Iraqi electoral commission said today that it had found irregularities in voter registration in the volatile northern oil city of Kirkuk.

The discovery was the first instance of an election irregularity announced by the commission as the country prepared for the vote on Thursday.

The commission said experts conducting an audit of voter lists found that there had been an unexpected surge in voter registration in the area. When the experts scrutinized the voter registration forms, the commission said in a written statement, they found that many had been filled out incorrectly. Some had missing signatures and others had more than one signature. In some cases, the same name appeared on several forms.

Adel al-Lami, the director general of the Iraqi electoral commission, said in an interview that in his view the voter registration irregularities were technical errors and not politically motivated. "Please stay away from political conspiracies," he said. "There's no political reason for this."

Kirkuk is considered one of the most potentially incendiary cities in Iraq, because of its diverse ethnic and religious mix and its oil resources. The area, north of Baghdad, has 10 to 20 percent of the country's oil reserves. As a result, several competing groups - Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs - claim dominance over the city.

Under the rule of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab, the government pushed Kurds and Turkmens out of Kirkuk and moved in Arabs, many of them from the south. After the American invasion, the two main Kurdish political parties began an aggressive campaign of resettling the region with Kurds.

Homes for Kurds are being built at a fevered pace in Kirkuk, further stirring the fears of Arabs and Turkmens. Unlike the situation in Mr. Hussein's time, the Kurds also control the provincial council, the police force and most of the provincial ministries.

No reliable census of the city has been taken for decades. The new constitution says Kirkuk Province will hold a referendum vote by the end of 2007 to determine whether it will be governed by the autonomous northern region of Kurdistan, or by the central government. One expert on the area, Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group, has recommended that Kirkuk itself be designated a special autonomous region.

The election commission said today that Kirkuk had an average 45 percent increase in voter registration across the region, compared with an average 8.19 percent increase across Iraq. That prompted experts to look at the registration forms that had been turned in recently.

The commission said it would distribute to polling places a list of names for whom forms had been rejected, and that those people would not be allowed to vote.

The Ministry of Interior laid out security plans today for the period surrounding the elections. The measures are similar to ones put in place during last January's elections and during the constitutional referendum in October. The government will shut down from Tuesday to Saturday, as a national holiday, and a nightly curfew of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. will be in place. In addition, civilians will not be allowed to carry guns even if they have a permit.

Iraqi forces will also clamp down on movement across the country's borders and on travel between provinces.

Advance voting is to take place Monday in hospitals and prisons.

Kirk Semple contributed reporting for this article.