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Can Anbar make it?

Special Correspondent
The old alliances have ceased to exist. New political entities and groups have appeared on the scene. With elections only a few days away, the uncertainty in Anbar over who will represent the province in the…
4.03.2010  |  Anbar

Sunnis are split across their tribal affiliations. Shiekh Ahmad Abu Risheh joined Jawad al-Boulani, the minister of interior, in the Iraq Unity Coalition, while Sheikh Saad abu Risheh, one of Abu Risheh's close cousins, joined the State of Law Coalition headed by Nouri al-Maliki. It is no secret that al-Maliki and al-Boulani are competing over the prime minister’s position in the forthcoming government.

The Albu Assaf tribe, at the head of the Dullaim tribes, is also divided. Sheikh Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, the head of the Iraq Bayareq Gathering, has opted to join the State of Law Coalition, while one of his very close cousins, Sheikh Ayad Munajed, joined the Iraqiyah list.

Anbar, a province of mainly Sunnis, with a strongly tribal character, barely took any part in the 2005 elections because of the al-Qaeda controlled it. Turnout reached 2% across the province. After the Tribal Awakening Councils worked with the Americans to defeat the terrorist groups, these councils rose to power as political parties and began participation in the political process, joining in with the 2009 Provincial Elections changed the situation after mid-2006.

As the elections have drawn nearer, security in al-Anbar has started to deteriorate. In the last three months, terrorist car bombs and suicide bombers have targeted citizens and security personnel. The return of the terrorists and the increased political rivalry that marks the run-up to any election, a state of fear and anxiety has gripped the ordinary people of the province.

Nevertheless, there are still many political parties and figures that aspire to be represented in the new parliament. Candidates of the different political entities, nevertheless, are still determined to continue with their electoral campaign. Three hundred and six candidates are competing over the 14 seats allocated for al-Anbar province. Among these are 83 women, and 21 political entities. All over the province, posters and electoral lists are pasted, especially in residential areas and at security check points.

All the main political entities and coalitions will be taking part in the election. Most candidates and political coalitions’ programme are more or less the same with regard to ideas and promises made. They all promise more security, democracy, building a professional Iraqi security institution, sovereign Iraq, strong Iraqi army and institutions, strong police and security forces, national reconciliation and change and reform.

“It is only normal to have similar electoral programmes before elections. They all made so many promises,” said Hassan al-Jibour, a legal expert in al-Anbar province and political analyst. “People are now confused and do not know who they want to elect. All programmes and promises are the same specially with regard to capacity and efficiency, military capacity to defend the country, all these promises will be gone with the wind as soon as the electoral process ends,” he added.

Moreover, the political programmes of many political entities focus on a quick and urgent solution for the country's complex economic problems. Some have made this issue among their most important priorities because it affects all Iraqi people and their well-being.

Some political entities have used slogans calling for the eradication of unemployment as soon as possible. However, these programmes were only for electoral consumption and do not touch on the real problems suffered by the economy – problems that affect people’s live – and needed remedies.

Most candidates also speak about the importance of developing industry and trade. They stress the importance of agriculture and how developing the performance of this sector will lead to self sufficiency and food security. They all speak about the goal but not on the means of achieving it.

“Promises made and issues tackled in the political programmes of political entities and parties’ programmes are all rhetoric, and the programmes have offered nothing in terms of how to reach these aims,” continued al-Jibour.

It is well know that the percentage of people who will vote in the forthcoming elections will be much higher than before. In 2005 the percentage did not exceed 2%. Still, fears remain that turnout of those eligible to vote will not exceed 40%, which was the turnout figure in the provincial elections of 2009.

People will be reluctant to vote because of deteriorating security conditions; conditions also present during the 2009 provincial elections. While security is poor now, with the fear of manipulation of election results very real, threats of future violence have also been made.

“The security conditions in Anbar, may have an impact on the number of voters and participation in the forthcoming elections. Moreover, people are complaining about the lack or even absence of services. Most politicians have lost credibility with them because they have completely failed to deliver on the promises they made in the last election," said Ali al-Mashhadani, a journalist and a political analyst.

The city, even armed conflict is avoided before the elections, will remain a huge security challenge when the elections results come out, especially if one of the strong tribes performs particularly badly at the ballot boxes.

During the provincial elections, and just hours after the closing of polling, the Anbar Salvation Council, which is the military wing of the Tribal Awakening Councils, headed by Hameed al-Hayes, threatened to burn Anbar when it was announced that he only got very few votes.

Under his threats, a compromise was reached between competitors and the seats distributed among them, ignoring the democratic process but preventing the eruption of armed conflict. Security forces were heavily criticised by the people for taking sides in the conflict.

The central government in Baghdad is absent and is not involved in the Anbar conflict because the dominant forces refuse any government interference in the city's internal affairs. The only expression of any existence of central government at all in the city is the ministry of interior's national police force.

According to Sufyan al-Dulaimi, a political analyst, “the people of al-Anbar are cautiously and fearfully waiting for the results of the elections. When the voting ends, tribal wars are not out of the question,” he added.