Sunni party's rise in Iraq signals new nationalist current
The al-Hadba Party emerged from Saturday's vote as a serious challenge to the status quo in Iraq.
Atheel al-Nujaifi, leader of an emergent Sunni Arab party, suddenly finds himself at the center of a sea change in this country's most turbulent province.Skip to next paragraph
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While ballots from Iraq's provincial vote Saturday are still being counted, officials say that Mr. Nujaifi's al-Hadba Gathering Party probably did well enough to control Nineveh's provincial council, previously in the hands of Kurds.
A victory would have broad implications. While it sets the stage for heightened tensions in Mosul between Kurds and Arabs, some say it could also convince Sunni Arab insurgents to lower their guns as they are beginning to see new political openings.
Overall, Nujaifi's party seems a harbinger of a wider nationalist, secular current intent on throwing off US and Iranian influence.
"All the people who went out and voted, voted against the status quo and the Kurdish parties have to understand this reality," says Nujaifi, a prominent businessman who campaigned on a platform that US and Iraqi officials describe as blatantly anti-Kurdish.
"We are not enemies of the Kurds," insists Nujaifi, his black Italian cashmere jacket offset by a subtly striped red and white tie. "There are certain issues and we would like to discuss these issues with Kurdish parties but we are not going to give up the rights for the people who have voted for our party."
Nujaifi warns that unrest could break out in the streets of Mosul, Iraq's third largest city and a main commercial center, if Kurdish officials do not accept the election results.
Kurdish authorities in Nineveh have already complained to electoral officials that voter registration problems barred many supporters from voting.
Nujaifi insists that al-Hadba has won at least 50 percent of the provincial votes. Officials close to the election process say it's closer to 40 percent – still enough to dominate Nineveh's provincial council and choose the new governor. Kurds say al-Hadba is overestimating its support.
A victory by al-Hadba would produce the most dramatic transition among the 14 Iraqi provinces that voted Saturday. No other majority Arab province has had a provincial council so dominated by Kurds, who have held 31 of the 41 seats in the existing provincial government.
New Sunni power center
Mosul, where more than 1,000 senior Iraqi Army officers were thrown out of work when US authorities disbanded the army, has been a center of the insurgency.
"We thought the big Sunni power would be the Awakening, but al-Hadba could be the new rising star," says one Western official monitoring the elections.
The Awakening Movement, armed tribal members who first turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq-linked insurgents in Anbar Province, were participating for the first time in elections. Now allegations of fraud in Saturday's vote and an expected strong showing by the religious Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) have sparked warnings of violence by Awakening leaders.