When his wife decided to run in last year’s provincial elections, Karbala local Adel Mohammed decided to consult a magic man. The fortune telling magician told Mohammed that his wife would win if she promised to help the families in need in Karbala. Despite the fact that Mohammed paid the magician IQD5 million (around US$4,200) his wife didn’t win – she only managed to get 47 votes.
Nonetheless Mohammed’s wife has decided to give politics another try and she is running as a candidate in the upcoming general elections – Iraq will hold federal elections on April 30.
So Mohammed has given another magic man a try too. “This time we went to one of the really famous magicians in Mishkab in Najaf,” Mohammed explains. “He gave us some prayers, some invocations to God, magic formulas and some bottles of water. All of these are supposed to be used to attract voters and sympathy for my wife. The magician says she will definitely win a seat this time.”
For these services, Mohammed and his wife paid around the same amount of money they did last time.
Since the early 1970s, magicians and mystics have become more popular and more professional in Iraq. They proclaim themselves semi-religious, calling themselves terms like sayid, sheikh or mullah, all of which denote that they are holy men in Arabic and Kurdish. But of course, with additional, special powers. One local sociologist believes that more locals were seeking help from the magic men in Iraq because of widespread poverty and illiteracy as well as a need to find some sort of hope, or spiritual alternative, after military conflict and economic crisis. Yet their clientele come from all levels of Iraqi society.
Meanwhile another of Karbala’s candidates, Mahmoud Obeid, says he too is resorting to magic. He has run for office three times already and he’s never been successful – so this time he is enlisting supernatural aid.
Interestingly enough Obeid sought the help of a magician in India. He says he travelled there and with the help of an Iraqi living there, met with a well known magic man. “I paid the man around US$4,000 so that he would do some rituals on my behalf,” Obeid explains. “But when we left his house we were attacked by a gang of three other men who stole all our money.”
Obeid, who lost about US$8,000 on his Indian trip, is now using another method to try and secure his place in politics: He is also distributing free meals to poor families in low-income areas. “This time I really hope I win,” Obeid says.
Another Karbala candidate, Layla Flaih, says she only decided to compete in these elections because of superstition. “One of my colleagues reads coffee grounds and she advised me to run,” Flaih told NIQASH. “She said I would win. So I submitted my information to IHEC [the Independent High Electoral Commission], which runs the elections even though it’s caused a lot of problems with my family. My husband didn’t want me to run and he has threatened to divorce me.”
Another candidate says one of his cousins works as a magician. The cousin couldn’t give the candidate any concrete information. “But still, he said that if I won I should pay him IQD7 million,” says the candidate, who preferred to remain anonymous because his cousin was doing special rituals to help him win.
These kinds of stories are not uncommon. The magic men and women of Karbala can corroborate these tales. Business is good, they say.
“Many of the candidates come late at night and they come in other cars, so that they are not seen coming to my house,” says one well known Karbala fortune teller known as Yahya. “They all ask me to perform rituals or they want special talismans that can help them get more votes. They want to use the talismans when they hold election rallies and also during their visits to different neighbourhoods.”
Yahya agrees that business is good; last year she also did well during the provincial elections. “One of the candidates paid me IQD5 million (around US$4,200) after winning a seat,” she notes.
Another local magician, whose name is Raed but who is known locally as Abu Mrayeh, or Father Mirror, is often consulted because he is supposed to be able to speak to spirits; he does this by hypnotising people and asking the spirits to work through them to reveal the names of thieves and where they can be found.
And now Raed says he is getting lots of visits from election candidates, asking him to tell them who is going to win.
“But I can’t promise anything because that’s not my speciality,” Raed says. “One of the female candidates who came here asked me to help her win a seat by summoning spirits who could collect votes for her and ensure she wins. She offered me US$10,000 but I refused her money because I can’t do this. My speciality is the detection of thieves’ names.”
“The candidates that go to magicians and fortune tellers do so because they lack confidence,” local sociologist Garham al-Khazali told NIQASH. “And the magicians and fortune tellers find them easy prey because of this. The candidates need to ease the pressure they put on themselves, they need to be reassured and this is what the magicians offer them: Peace of mind. That’s why they also get the money they ask for.”
Of course, not all the candidates think it’s a good idea to try and use “magic” to succeed in the upcoming general elections. “In this day and age it’s embarrassing to go to magicians,” says one candidate who preferred not to be named. “These people are doing this because they simply don’t have any real support from Karbala’s voters.”