Kurd opposition claims major gain

SULAIMANIYAH: A new opposition party vying to break the grip of Iraqi Kurdistan's long dominant former rebel factions said on Sunday that it won the most votes in the region's second city of Sulaimaniyah in this weekend's election.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which again campaigned on a joint list, had been expected to retain their dominance in Saturday's presidential and parliamentary elections.

But the Goran (Change) movement said that it had won more votes than the joint list in Sulaimaniyah, long a bastion of the PUK of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

"We have won in Sulaimaniyah and several other localities in the province" of the same name, the party said in a statement on its website.

Goran is led by Nusherwan Mustafa, a wealthy entrepreneur who is a former deputy leader of the PUK.

In the autonomous Kurdish region's other two provinces of Arbil and Dohuk, party representatives at the count said the KDP-PUK joint list was ahead, although Goran was coming second in the region's largest city Arbil.

Nearly 80 percent of the region's voters turned out in what election officials trumpeted as a transparent poll.

After the preliminary count in Arbil, the ballots are to be sent to the Iraqi capital Baghdad for an official tally and full results not expected for days.

No opinion polls were carried out in the run-up to Saturday's election, which had made the outcome difficult to predict.

Seats in the regional parliament are awarded by a form of proportional representation.