elections come to anbar and ninewa, so does iraqi army
will soldiers influence vote?
Provincial elections were delayed in the two Iraqi provinces hosting most of the current anti-government protests. They will now take place in June. But many fear the influx of security forces will make a
A campaign poster for Iraq\\\\\\\'s PM, Nouri al-Maliki, during the recent provincial elections. Pic: Getty
The provincial elections that didn’t take place in the provinces of Anbar and Ninewa last month have been rescheduled. Voting should now take place this month, on June 20. And so election campaigns are in full swing in these two troubled provinces.
The back drop to these late elections is fraught, with the cities in both areas filled with security forces, military and police due to the protests that have been going on there for more than five months now.
The protests are led by Iraq’s Sunni Muslims who say they are discriminated against and marginalised by the current Shiite Muslim-led government in Baghdad, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. Recently things became even more tense when Iraqi army forces, acting on behalf of the Shiite Muslim-led government, turned on mostly Sunni Muslim protestors in Hawija in Ninewa in the north of the country. Around 50 demonstrators were killed. Since then there have been a number of deadly incidents around the country with over a thousand people killed in Iraq in May.
This is part of the reason why the number of army and police in Anbar and Ninewa has increased so dramatically. But what will the effect of their presence be on the upcoming elections?
In Iraq’s western Anbar province, there will be more than 500 candidates competing for around 29 seats on various provincial authorities. According to official data there are 300 polling stations in Anbar and around 851,000 eligible voters. Additionally over 30,000 members of security forces currently in the province will also vote at about 38 special polling stations before the public elections. Campaign posters are everywhere, on bridges, streets and even plastered onto security checkpoints. Local television shows are devoting hours to candidate interviews.
But as Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, the head of the powerful Dulaim tribes and one of the leaders of local Sunni Muslim protests, pointed out, “the number of security forces here is huge. There are four brigades and thousands of troops. This makes locals uneasy,” he told NIQASH.
Al-Suleiman doesn’t think that locals are afraid to vote because of the demonstrations. “The people of Anbar really want to participate in elections,” al-Suleiman said. But they are worried about random acts of violence by either extremists or the security forces deployed here.
Two of the biggest competitors in the elections are the parties headed by the Iraqi parliament’s speaker in Baghdad, Osama al-Nujaifi, and Qassim al-Fahdawi, the current governor of Anbar.
“Holding elections here is a good idea,” al-Fahdawi told NIQASH. “But we are still afraid of electoral fraud.” Al-Fahdawi said he thought that in Anbar, the Independent High Electoral Commission (or IHEC), which is charged with overseeing Iraqi elections, was dominated by members of one local party – although he refused to give the party’s name. Al-Fahdawi said he thought that there might be counterfeit ballot papers and attempts made to falsify the electoral rolls.
"IHEC\'s employees are not politicized and they are independent,” IHEC\'s Miqdad al-Sharifi, who heads the administration, denies the claims.
Not everyone in Anbar is excited about the upcoming election though. “I am not going to vote because it seems to me politicians only want the top jobs for their own ends; they don’t keep their promises,” says Yassin al-Dulaimi, a local in the city of Ramadi, where most of Anbar’s protests have taken place. “I’ve also seen a lot of candidates handing out bribes to voters.”
“The changes in election dates and in voter registration centres has also caused confusion,” another local, Harith al-Ani, from Heet city in Anbar, said. “A lot of the people here are illiterate.”
In the northern province of Ninewa, official numbers say that there are around 1.8 million eligible voters who will be heading to around 718 polling stations at the end of this month. There they will decide between 680 candidates competing for 39 seats on local authorities there.
Interestingly enough, the massive influx of security forces from southern Iraq has seen the dangerous city of Mosul become safer. Several of the candidates have even put their real photographs on their campaign posters. Previously they may only have used their names because of the danger that being identified could put them in; five candidates have been killed in recent weeks already.
Additionally hundreds of IHEC’s staff had resigned – they too had had death threats because of their work with the elections. However now there are plenty of new applicants to take their places, IHEC reports.
That was one of the biggest problems for IHEC, says Wael al-Waeli, who works for IHEC in Ninewa: the fact that so many of IHEC’s employees were being threatened by extremists. But now, al-Waeli says, IHEC has received more than 30,000 applications to staff polling stations. “We will try and conduct an electronic draw to work out who’s going to get the jobs,” he explains.
Almost all of the candidates in Mosul that NIQASH spoke with believed that elections here were postponed by Baghdad to hinder the progress of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political foes in this region. And for many of the candidates here in Ninawa, one of the biggest problems they still have is the elections’ timing.
The date coincides with important exams at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, one candidate, Khaled Uthman, told NIQASH.
“The hot weather at this time of year will make people reluctant to vote,” added another candidate, Imad Zakariya. “In spring, when it is cooler, people are more inclined to get out and vote.”
Despite many locals’ pessimism, some in Mosul are still looking forward to being able to vote. “Elections are the revolutions of democratic societies,” says Saeed al-Qaysi, a Mosul architect. “We have to replace the person who’s not doing the job right. And we must do this because our city needs major reconstruction, after having been the victim of extremists for so many years. We must vote – at all costs,” he concluded.