For politicians, the road to Baghdad is long and arduous. (photo: الموسوعة الحرة )
With a mix of religious, ethnic and sectarian groups and 7.5 million inhabitants, Baghdad is a truly cosmopolitan city. It is why the election campaign is particularly competitive in the Iraqi capital, home of the country’s parliament. There are 2,188 candidates competing to occupy 71 seats allocated to the city. Of those 17 are reserved for female politicians and two are quota-specific seats, reserved for Christian and Sabaean MPs.
Because of the wide variations in demographics in Baghdad and an increasing emphasis on new faces and secular organisations, the fiercest competition is likely to be between Sunni Muslim and Shiite Muslim politicians.
The Shiite Muslim parties
Previously Baghdad’s Shiite Muslim politicians would compete together in one coalition or, if they were in different coalitions, they would have agreed to cooperate after the elections no matter who won.
However the current conflicts within the Shiite Muslim groups seem so deep as to be insurmountable, both before or after election day. As has been written here before, even Dawa, the party generally acknowledged to be the strongest Shiite Muslim party in the country, is split. It has two wings – one is led by the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, and the other is led by the former, and much less popular, prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
The other major groups that might appeal to Shiite Muslim voters include the Marching Towards Reform group, or Saeroun, the Wisdom group and a new alliance of parties representing the Shiite Muslim militias who gained much in popularity over the past three years as the defenders of Shiite areas against the extremist Islamic State group.
The Saeroun group includes an unusual combination of supporters of the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi Communist party while the Wisdom group is led by another younger cleric, Ammar al-Hakim. Both of the latter appear to be trying to change things up, with the inclusion of new political partners and new faces. Meanwhile the militia-inspired party, led by militia leader and former minister, Hadi al-Ameri, has been campaigning in both Sunni and Shiite areas, taking advantage of the militias’ status as hometown heroes.
All of these parties are likely to have the best chances of election in the Shiite Muslim neighbourhoods of Baghdad.
The Sunni Muslim parties
In terms of Sunni Muslim politicians, the various different parties are being led by well-known faces. These include Osama al-Nujaifi, Ayad Allawi, Salim al-Jibouri and Saleh al-Mutlaq. It is hard to say how popular these leaders are, after their apparent ineffectiveness and all that Iraq’s Sunnis have been through.
Besides these groups there are also some new formations in Sunni Muslim neighbourhoods. Possibly the most notable one of these is the Solidarity group, headed by a well-known community and Shamar tribe leader, Waddah al-Sadid.
The secular parties
Over the past term, there has been increasing criticism of parties with a religious basis and this has seen secular politicians gain in popularity. In some cases, the criticism has been so effective that Islamic-based parties have changed their names to make themselves sound less religious. But that has not changed their character. One example: the Civil party led by businessperson and banker, Hamad al-Musawi. He is in fact a well-known ally of the former prime minister and member of a religion-based party, Nouri al-Maliki.
There are also some big differences of opinion among the secular political parties that were not as obvious in the past. The worst of these splits involves the Iraqi Communist party and their former allies in the Civilized Alliance, led by MP Faiq al-Sheikh Ali. The latter are annoyed at the former for teaming up with the religious Sadrists.
The Kurdish parties
Iraqi Kurdish politicians are not particularly popular in the capital at the moment, thanks to the ill-fated referendum on Kurdish independence last October. Nonetheless they are still fielding some candidates in Baghdad. For example, Kurdish politician Ala Talabani is running on behalf of her party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
A new party from Iraqi Kurdistan, New Generation, which acts mostly in opposition to established Kurdish parties, including those who supported the referendum, is also in Baghdad, trying to win the votes of Kurds living here as well as the votes of Sunni and Shiite locals who want something a little different.