Monday, June 02, 2003

Mosul and Kirkuk are two cities in northern Iraq generally billed as "success stories" because they have held elections for local governments. As usual, the details are not quite so rosy. The Mosul election was held by 200 people presumably chosen as representatives of different groups by the U.S. military. The result was that a retired Arab general named Ghanim al-Basso became mayor, a Kurd became Deputy Mayor, and a Turkmen and an Assyrian were each chosen as Assistant Mayors. This shows the sorts of ethnic balancing acts necessary in northern Iraq, where Kurdish aspirations for independence probably lurk not too far below the surface in this region affected by Saddam's "Arabization" programs, while leaders of all communities officially pledge to work together. Whether or not this council is doing anything is harder to say; the city made big headlines in April when U.S. troops killed demonstrators, but I can't find anything after that.

One finds a similar situation in Kirkuk, Iraq's largest oil-producing city, where first 300 delegates met to select a city council of 30. Then on May 28 the council chose as mayor a Kurdish lawyer named Abd ar-Rahman Mustafa, with the usual ethnic mix of assistants. Here the different ethnic groups have complaints, but have put them on hold with warnings that the administration should not display favoritism toward any one group. One key issue: Property rights in an area where Saddam deported hundreds of thousands of Kurds and gave their property to Arab citizens who now fear reprisals.

Information on other cities is sparse...and I think that is a serious gap in the media coverage. Also, the headlines saying things like "Mosul elects mayor" would seem to be seriously misleading. However, I think the key to Mosul and Kirkuk will be in how effective these transitional administrations are at handling key issues such as services and ethnic disputes. But this may also show the wisdom of starting with local administration - if these complex local issues weren't solved, any national government would inherit a country in chaos.


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