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Will US Sanctions Change Salahaddin’s Political Landscape?

Ghazwan Hassan al-Jibouri
One of the province’s most popular politicians - Abdullah al-Jibouri - was recently added to a US sanctions list and his critics believe it could scupper his chances in the next provincial elections.
2.10.2019  |  Tikrit
Political scraps at provincial level in Salahaddin.
Political scraps at provincial level in Salahaddin.

Until recently one politician had dominated the political scene in the province of Salahaddin: former governor, Abdullah al-Jibouri. However around six weeks ago the US government announced that it was sanctioning al-Jibouri, along with three other Iraqis because of “human rights abuses and corruption”.

The decision by the US is an act of betrayal.

Al-Jibouri, who’s commonly referred to by locals as Abu Mazen and who was governor of the province when the extremist group known as the Islamic State took control of part of it, was expected to continue to be one of the most popular politicians in the province. But the sanctions on him could change all that.  

Ali Mahmoud, a senior member of al-Jibouri’s party, was quick to downplay the impact of the sanctions. “The decision by the US is an act of betrayal,” he said. “It’s a decision made outside of Iraq and it won’t have an impact on Iraqi laws, or on the election rules.”

Basically, Mahmoud says, he and other supporters are waiting for al-Jibouri’s name to be removed from the sanctions list. “And this issue won’t be an obstacle for us to win in provincial elections.”

Provincial elections in Iraq are due to be held in April next year and the authorities believe there are around 900,000 eligible voters in Salahaddin.

The head of the security committee at the Salahaddin provincial council, Sabhan Mulla Jiyad, isn’t quite as sure that the sanctions won’t make a difference. They could have an impact on decision making in Baghdad and therefore, on who is sent to campaign in the province. It’s quite possible political parties will be forced to come up with some new names.

For example, in 2014 elections, the country’s Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, would not allow the party led by politician Mishan al-Jibouri to compete in the Salahaddin elections. This was because there was apparently an international arrest warrant out for al-Jibouri at the time.

Another example: Local lawyer, Fares Nimeh, is planning to stand for election on the provincial council. He agrees that Abdullah al-Jibouri’s party is very strong and is popular with voters. “But I don’t want to risk them being banned from competing and see all my own efforts, and those of the voters who support me, go to waste,” he explains why he hasn’t joined them. “That’s why I’ve decided to run with a more stable list that has strong support from Baghdad.”

Al-Jibouri’s closest rivals also believe – and possibly even hope – that the US sanctions will have an impact on the popular politician’s standing. “The US sanctions will have an impact on the street and on the voting public in particular,” Khaled Abdallah al-Jabara, a candidate for the rival party led by senior Sunni Muslim politician, Mohammed al-Halbusi, says. “There will be less fraud and corruption,” he suggested, ostensibly referring to the American accusations against al-Jibouri.

Outside of all of the dissenting opinions and political competition, local activist Nafea Sameer al-Tikriti, says he is not sure whether having al-Jibouri on the sanctions list will make that much of a difference – but for different reasons altogether.

“Looking at past elections and the situation with the bigger parties here, I wouldn’t expect a big change,” al-Tikriti explains. “That’s because there  is a consistently low voter turnout, the potential for electoral fraud is present and there are still opportunities that many of the better-financed parties take up to mobilize people with promises and bribes.”

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