News / Middle East

Iraq Faces Big Challenges in 1st Election Without US Troops

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-MalikiIraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
x
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
A surge in violence in Iraq is highlighting the security challenges facing the country as it prepares to hold its first election without foreign troop support on Saturday.

In the deadliest of several bombings across Iraq this week, a suicide bomber attacked a Baghdad cafe popular with Iraqi youths Thursday, killing at least 27 people. Nationwide attacks also killed more than 30 people on Monday.

Iraqi authorities have pressed on with plans to hold Saturday's provincial council elections in 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces in spite of the violence. More than 8,000 candidates are competing for about 400 seats in the councils.

It will be Iraq's first national vote since U.S. troops left in 2011, ending a mission to train Iraqi forces to secure the country after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi government held a special round of provincial voting last week for the military and police forces assigned to secure the main polling day.

In an interview with VOA, U.N. Special Representative for Iraq Martin Kobler said the early vote was peaceful and drew a high turnout among security personnel.

"But this was not the real test, (as it involved) only 1,800 or so polling stations," Kobler said. "We now have 13.5 million voters (eligible) to go to 5,000 polling stations in order to cast their ballots. This has to be done in peace and security."

Violence intensifies

Speaking by phone from Baghdad, Kobler said the killings of at least 13 election candidates and hundreds of other Iraqis in recent weeks in election and non-election related violence has made the situation "very difficult."

"It is the duty of the government to have an atmosphere in which voters and candidates can go to the polls free of intimidation and fear," he said.

Security problems have prompted the Iraqi government to postpone the vote in the Sunni-dominated provinces of Anbar and Nineveh by up to six months.

Kobler said the situation in the two provinces "is not ideal" for elections. But, he said the government should hold them "as soon as possible" to give the population of Anbar and Nineveh the chance to vote.

Analyst Anthony Cordesman of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies said Iraq's recent spike in attacks is part of a broader militant campaign to divide the country along ethnic lines.

"The polarization of Sunnis and Shi'ites is becoming a far more serious problem than (anything related to) delaying elections," he said.

Divisions deepen

Iraq's main political blocs increasingly have appealed to voters' sectarian loyalties in campaigning for the April 20 provincial council election, a key test of their popularity ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

Kobler said he is growing more concerned about that trend.

"It is very important that the political atmosphere in the country improves, that political (blocs) come together in a dialogue to solve their political problems, not to split, use violence or sectarian rhetoric," he said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shi'ite State of Law coalition has two main rivals for the country's majority Shi'ite vote: the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and the Sadrist movement of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Iraq's minority Sunnis have staged months of protests against Mr. Maliki, accusing him of amassing power in Shi'ite hands, marginalizing Sunni leaders and unfairly targeting them for prosecution. His postponement of provincial votes in Anbar and Nineveh added to Sunni resentments.

Several major groups are competing for the Sunni vote. They include the Iraqiya list of Shi'ite politician Ayad Allawi and factions loyal to Sunni Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.

Iraqi sectarian divisions also have been reflected in the decisions of four provinces to stay out of Saturday's vote.

Northern Iraq's three autonomous Kurdish provinces plan to hold their own elections in September. In the ethnically-mixed fourth province of Kirkuk, Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen leaders have failed to agree on how to share power at the local level.

Voter demands

Kobler said the provincial results also will be shaped by how parties deal with issues beyond tribal loyalty.

"People want to have stability, they want security, they want to have basic service delivery like food and electricity. They want to have employment and all these things that are not sufficiently granted (by the authorities)."

Cordesman, a former U.S. State Department and Defense Department official, said previous Iraqi elections have shown that voters have a tendency to oust incumbents for being corrupt and incompetent in office.

Kobler said corruption frequently is a problem in elections. He said the provincial vote also will be a test of how Iraq investigates complaints of fraud.

"Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) will have to take care that the polling stations, booths and ballot boxes are quarantined, and that (votes) are recounted or adequate measures are taken if fraud is detected," he said.

Enhancing credibility

But, Kobler said the election has many safeguards, including 240,000 political activists who will observe polling stations, 271 registered international observers and 2,000 accredited journalists, including 170 foreigners.

Fifteen international election experts with Kobler's U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) also have been advising Iraqi authorities about how to conduct the vote according to global standards.

The U.N. envoy said he is optimistic about Iraq's prospects after the vote. "It has a tremendous history, a rich youth, and is rich in terms of human resources and financial assets."

Cordesman said the election's significance should not be exaggerated. "It will only be important if the results show that there is a really powerful resistance to Prime Minister Maliki's control and consolidation of power," he said. "That is possible."

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More