BAGHDAD (AP) — The leading party in Iraq's northern self-ruled Kurdish region has won the largest bloc in the local legislature, gaining eight seats compared to its previous standing, authorities said on Wednesday.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani, secured 38 seats in September's vote for the 111-seat regional parliament, Independent High Electoral Commission spokesman Safaa al-Moussawi told a press conference in the regional capital, Irbil.
The main opposition party Goran, or Change, won 24 seats, taking the second place slot from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. PUK won only 18 seats, down from the 29 it took in 2009.
Ten other seats went to another opposition political party, the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, while 21 seats went to smaller parties and independents of which 11 were reserved for ethnic minorities.
The results are not expected to upend the domination of PUK and KDP, the region's two main political parties which have a power-sharing agreement. But they bring attention to public frustration over alleged corruption and perceived heavy-handedness by private security forces.
The Goran party is led by Nosherwan Mustafa, a former senior PUK member who's an outspoken critic of the leading parties, accusing them of corruption, nepotism and media intimidation. The absence of leadership in Talabani's PUK and the ambiguity over his health condition after suffering a stroke in December could have also been behind its poor showing, especially in its stronghold in Sulaimaniyah province.
Long-running disputes with the Arab-led government in Baghdad over territory, natural resources and power sharing are not expected to be solved soon however no matter what new government is formed, as all Kurdish parties remain united with regard to central authorities.
Kurds have enjoyed autonomy since 1991, when a U.S.-British no-fly zone helped protect them from Saddam Hussein's forces until his fall in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Since then, the region has been largely peaceful compared to the rest of Iraq.
Elsewhere in Iraq on Wednesday, gunmen downed at dawn a military helicopter north of Baghdad during clashes, killing its five-member crew, two intelligence officers and a military official said. Four militants were killed in the gunbattle outside the city of Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of the Iraqi capital.
The officials said the helicopter was shot down while it was supporting ground troops. Another helicopter was also hit, but the crew managed to make an emergency landing without suffering casualties, they said on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The fighting was part of the military's counter-insurgency operation recently launched in Sunni-dominated areas in central and northern Iraq. But the operation, dubbed "Revenge for the Martyrs," has not made significant headway in stopping the violence that has gripped the country since April.
In the ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk, a car bomb went off in a commercial area, killing one civilian and wounding 13 others, provincial police chief Maj. Gen. Jamal Tahir said. Kirkuk is located 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad.
Iraq is undergoing its worst surge in violence since 2008, with near-daily militant attacks and relentless bombings blamed on hard-line Sunni insurgents. More than 5,000 people have been killed since April.
Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.