FIRST AND FOREMOST:

Kurds vote, first and foremost, for Kurdistan (Edward Wong, 12/16/05, The New York Times)

By all appearances here, the elections Thursday for national parliamentary seats may as well have been about Kurdistan and Kurdish dreams. Iraq, or the idea of Iraq, seemed as distant as the moon.

“I will vote for 730,” said Fakhri Muhammad, 32, referring to the ballot number of the main Kurdish coalition, as he stood in line outside the village’s primary school. “The list is Kurdish, and it represents the Kurdish people.”

So went the refrain throughout much of the north, with Kurdish voters shying away from Arab candidates and siding only with Kurdish groups, particularly the Kurdistan Alliance, the coalition made up of the two main Kurdish parties. It was a stark illustration of how much the vote across Iraq had split along ethnic and sectarian lines. For many Kurds, a vote for the Kurdistan Alliance was first and foremost a bid to secure autonomy for the mountainous Kurdish homeland in the north, and only secondarily a vote for the general welfare of Iraq.

Political fervor was especially rampant here in dry, windswept Tamim Province, whose capital is Kirkuk, about 25 kilometers, or 15 miles, south of Altun Kopri. Under Saddam Hussein’s rule, the government deported Kurds and Turkmens and moved in Arabs to better control the oil fields.

Kurdish leaders have made no secret of their desire to incorporate Kirkuk and other parts of the province into Kurdistan, rather than allowing the central government to administrate it.

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