Two days before the rest of the country does, over one million members of Iraq’s military will vote in general elections. The questions are clear: Will the army simply be loyal to the current government? Or
According to Iraqi electoral law, the country’s security forces should vote two days before the rest of the population. Which means that in just under a fortnight Iraq’s army, police and other military will go to the polls.
Over one million members of the security forces – 1,023,829 to be precise - will be partaking in this special ballot, Safaa al-Musawi, the spokesperson for the Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, told NIQASH; his organisation is responsible for overseeing elections in Iraq. “IHEC has distributed electronic voter cards to these forces and they all have the letter ‘F’ on them,” al-Musawi explained. “Their cards are also a different colour.”
The voters possessing these cards will make their choices on April 28, at 532 polling centres with 2,557 polling stations that IHEC will open for the special ballot, al-Musawi noted.
The fact that the security forces will vote in such a sizeable block is a matter of concern to many in Iraq. And they worry for several reasons.
One fear is that, because senior members of the Iraqi military are generally considered fairly loyal to the current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, pressure – either direct or indirect - will be on military voters to support his party. After all al-Maliki has appointed many of the senior members of the military and his government pays everyone else. Additionally recent reports suggest that the Iraqi army is now mostly composed of Shiite Muslims – al-Maliki himself is Shiite Muslim and his ruling political coalition was mostly composed of Shiite Muslim parties.
“Whenever there is an election of any kind, we get pressure from our superiors,” says one army captain, who wanted to be known only as Mahmoud. “They force us to vote even if we don’t want to. Often we’ll hear rumours that the military knows who soldiers voted for and that they’ll punish anyone who doesn’t support the existing Defence Minister\'s party, or the Prime Minister’s party.”
Another big issue for the military voters is the current conflict in the Anbar province. The question being asked is how exactly can these soldiers vote when they’re busy battling extremists and tribal groups on a daily basis? It’s also highly likely that this conflict will have an impact on the military voters’ states of mind and influence their choice of candidate.
“Soldiers should be able to vote freely without the psychological pressures of battle,” Hamid al-Mutlaq, one of Anbar\'s Sunni Muslim candidates, told NIQASH. “The fighting in Anbar is bound to affect their choices.”
In Anbar it will also be difficult to guarantee the presence of international or local observers, to ensure voting is done according to the rules and that there is no fraud. Voting for the military and then later on, for the Anbar locals, will take place in schools or other public places, or in military barracks – and all of these will be difficult for election observers to reach as they may well be dangerous, given current conditions in some areas of Anbar.
It is also possible that the situation they are facing in Anbar may be turning the Iraqi military against al-Maliki. When problems first started in Anbar, al-Maliki seemed to be very popular with the military, observers say. However over recent months this has changed.
“Al-Maliki’s popularity is decreasing,” says one senior member of the military in Basra province, who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions. “Because the army is having huge difficulties in Anbar.”
According to this soldier, the Iraqi government has allegedly played down the number of military casualties it’s had in the fight against insurgents in Anbar. Videos being posted on YouTube and other social media indicate many more are being captured and killed.
“Previously regiments in the south of the country were fairly safe on their bases,” the military source says. “Then al-Maliki decided to bring them to Anbar and it’s led to many deaths. This has increased ill will towards the government.”
“The government has forced the Iraqi military into a battle it cannot win,” says Yassin al-Rubaie, a former member of the Iraqi army’s Seventh Division, which is currently deployed in Anbar. “We don’t have any experience fighting a guerrilla war on the streets and we don’t know the area at all. The militias fighting us know the area very well, they’re better coordinated than the army and they have had this kind of combat experience before,” he says.
Al-Rubaie says he left the military after being trapped in a gun battle on the outskirts of Fallujah city. He says they called their headquarters for reinforcements but no one even answered his call; he and his comrades got into a gun battle and one of them died before they were able to escape the scene. “After that I decided to leave the army,” al-Rubaie says. “And I am not going to vote in the elections either.”