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Iraq: political blocs in Mosul demand protection

Iraq: political blocs in Mosul demand protection

Five political blocs competing in provincial elections in Mosul said Wednesday they have demanded more government protection for polling stations in Kurdish-controlled areas.
The request reflects fears that ethnic tensions will rise in the northern city as Kurdish and mainly Sunni Arab parties fight for power in the Jan. 31 vote.
Security forces in Mosul, where Sunni insurgent groups remain active, were long-dominated by Kurdish soldiers. The Iraqi government recently sent thousands of Arab troops to replace them, although Kurds retain influence in areas of eastern Mosul and surrounding villages.
Kurds, who comprise less than a third of Mosul's population, hold 31 of 41 seats on the current provincial council because many Sunnis boycotted the last provincial elections in January 2005.
"We have bitter experience from last elections when members of the peshmerga (Kurdish fighters) took advantage of the situation and committed fraud in order to boost the position of their two parties in the elections," said Athil al-Nujeifi, the head of the main Sunni bloc known as Hadba. "Our current demand aims at preventing any new violations that would repeat the old scenario."
He said Hadba has joined rivals from the minority Shabak and Turkomen communities as well as smaller Sunni and Shiite groups in demanding the central government send more troops to Kurdish areas.
The groups also have asked the United Nations to deploy observers in the voting centers to "prevent any interference by Kurdish militias," he said.
Kurdish official Kabir al-Gourani, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, denied the allegations.
"We are strong and confident that we will achieve massive victory in the elections and we do not need to play games," he said.
While violence has ebbed elsewhere in Iraq, insurgent attacks continue to plague Iraq's third-largest city, despite U.S.-Iraqi security operations. U.S. and Iraqi officials hope the elections will redistribute power more equitably and undercut Sunni support for the militants.
Underscoring the dangers, a suicide car bomber struck an Iraqi military checkpoint Wednesday in Zanjili, one of Mosul's most dangerous neighborhoods, killing two people, police said.
A U.S. military commander, meanwhile, expressed concern that Iran might seek to influence the key vote in southern Iraq.
"We have to balance some of the external threats to the country even as countries outside Iraq seek to meddle in Iraqi politics and support extremist groups within the country," Maj. Gen. Michael Oates said. "We still have a challenge there."
Oates, who commands U.S. forces south of Baghdad, said he had no concrete evidence of Iranian meddling but based his concerns on anecdotal and circumstantial evidence.
He also acknowledged Iran has helped people in southern Iraq build hospitals and offered support for the poor.
"Iran has influence in southern Iraq and some of it is good," he said. "My concern is the degree to which they may seek to influence Iraqi politics."
Oates also said U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces had been successful in curbing weapons smuggling from Iran.
"We see fewer and fewer lethal munitions coming across the border," he said.
Iran denies allegations that it's supporting violence in Iraq.
Oates also reported that attacks in his area were down to one to two per day. He blamed the attacks mainly on Shiite extremist groups.
A quarterly report issued by the Pentagon on Tuesday warned that "Iran continues to pose a significant threat to Iraq's long-term stability, territorial integrity, and political independence."
Tehran also "continues to host, train, fund, arm, and direct militant groups intent on destabilizing Iraq," according to the report, which covered developments in Iraq from September through November.
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Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad and AP staff in Mosul contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-12 08:03 GMT+08:00