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Sectarian Polarization in Diyala

Muhammed Abdullah
The aftermath of recent provincial elections in Diyala has brought renewed political tensions to the multi-ethnic, security-troubled province.
20.04.2009  |  Diyala

Following the announcement by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) that Sunni parties had come first, Shiite parties organized a series of demonstrations denouncing the results. When this dispute finally began to calm, new tensions arose regarding the distribution of posts.

During the first meeting of newly-elected provincial council members on April 6, a meeting dedicated to the formation of the new local government, attempt were made to arrest four members of the Accordance and Reform Front by security agencies on charges of supporting militant groups. U.S forces interfered to prevent the arrests.

The incident complicated the formation of a new local government and prompted the Islamic Party, which leads the Front, to describe the attempted arrests as "malicious targeting the party’s leadership."

A source from the Islamic Party, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Niqash that the attempted arrests were a baseless attack on the party and that "Iraqi President Jalal Talabani personally intervened and threatened the resignation of the Presidential Council if the arrests were carried out.”

Following the incident Party’s leaders organized a two-day sit-in inside the provincial council building to protest the episode.

Meanwhile, two days after the raid by security forces raid, 5000 supporters of Shiite parties demonstrated in al-Miqdadiya and Khalis districts challenging the integrity of elections, calling on authorities to arrest Accordance bloc members and condemning U.S forces for preventing the arrests.

The demonstrators accused the IHEC of depriving thousands of displaced Shiite families of their vote. Furthermore, they accused Sunni parties, especially the Islamic Party, of excluding Shiite security and administrative leaders and of involvement in terrorist acts.

Sheikh Hameed al-Khalisi, a spokesman for the protesters told Niqash that the elections and the new provincial council were illegitimate as thousands of voters were deprived of their right to vote. “We demand new elections under international supervision to ensure the rights of displaced families," adding that "demonstrators will use all peaceful means to express their rejection of the legitimacy of the elections and their results.”

However, Mahdi al-Jibouri, head of the Islamic Party list, warned against “the creation of new political tensions in the city, which has already suffers almost two years of tensions as a result of political and social unrest, not to mention continued armed attacks and suicide bombings." He called on all parties to accept the results, telling Niqash that "violations committed during elections do not require the annulment of results.”

At the second meeting of the council members held on April 11, 12 members representing four Shiite political blocs (the State of Law Coalition, the National Dialogue Front, the National Reform Stream and the Iraqi List) withdrew from the meeting, protesting their marginalization in the distribution of posts. The withdrawing blocs announced that they will file a lawsuit with the Federal Court challenging the voting process that took place after their withdrawal.

Despite the boycotting Shiite-bloc, the session resulted in the election of an independent personality with ties to the Islamic Party, Abdul Naser Al Muntaser Billah, as governor, while the Kurdistan Alliance took the position of provincial council head.

Taleb Muhammad Hassan, the new head of the provincial council, told Niqash that "the meeting was legal, despite the withdrawal of the four blocs because the necessary quorum was reached." He added that important posts were kept for those who withdrew and they could still occupy them if they returned to the council.

On the back of these tensions, a senior security source who requested anonymity, told Niqash that disputes between political blocs risked inflaming the security situation.

“Intelligence reports indicate that there are Baathist cells preparing to take advantage of this situation to stir up the security situation," he said, adding that security reports indicate that the leading member of the Iraqi Baath Party, Izzat al-Douri is currently in hiding in Hamrin district in Diyala.

The source urged political blocs to reach a compromise so as to prevent an escalation of hostilities and the potential for violence.

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