What Iraqis Think of the Elections

While elections in Iraq appear to be on track, opinions among Iraqis vary on topics ranging from whether they will even vote to whether the polls will bring positive change for their war-torn occupied country. Ordinary Iraqis are concerned about the fairness of the elections, which is threatened by the bad security situation as well as the complexities within the very election system.

“We are not against the elections, but we are against their timing,” said Saif, an 18-year-old biology student at Baghdad University. “They will be a disaster. Look at the security!”

In the lead-up to the elections, violence continues to escalate, the target of which oftentimes being polling stations and political officials.

In Beji on January 17, two polling stations were attacked with mortars and gunfire. Also in the same area, fighters attacked a school that was designated as a polling station and was being guarded by US soldiers. More, a suicide car bomb detonated near the offices of the headquarters of one of the leading Shiite political parties, killing at least four guards. The office of The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, located near Baghdad University in south Baghdad, was damaged in the explosion.

Despite the violence, many Iraqis remain determined to vote.

“We are not against elections, but we are against their timing.” “I will vote no matter what,” said Alia Khalaf, a biologist in Baghdad who is also a follower of Sistani. “The elections will bring more security to Iraq.”

Yet it seems difficult to imagine that simply holding elections will be a catalyst for stability.

Recently, in another military operation, the son of an official close to the revered cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani was shot dead in southeast Baghdad. Furthermore, last week Mahmoud Al-Madaen, the personal representative of Sistani in the small city of Salman Pak south of Baghdad, was assassinated along with his son and four bodyguards. On the same day Halim Al-Moaqaq was found dead. Moaqaq was another of Sistani’s aides.

At least eight candidates have been assassinated—let alone countless thwarted attempts. Many Iraqis hold very strong opinions against holding the elections under these circumstances.

“We will have the elections only because the Americans demand it,” said Sara, a physics student in Baghdad. “The people nominated are not national Iraqis and most of them are puppets of the Americans who have not suffered in Iraq like we have under these circumstances.”

“I will vote no matter what.”

In seemingly futile efforts to increase security for the elections, the US-backed interim Iraqi government has announced that the country’s borders will be closed from January 29 until January 31. Mobile and satellite phones will be cut during this time, the use of vehicles “restricted,” and already existing nighttime curfews extended. Iraqis will also be barred from traveling between the governorates.

Election Complexities

“If there are to be true elections there should be names,” complained a man who called himself Ahmed in a market in central Baghdad.

His opinion is not without cause—the election process is fraught with complexities. Even the ballot itself for the 275-member parliament is difficult to discern. There are over 7,000 candidates, mostly unnamed for fear of assassination. Members of parliament will be elected by proportional representation.

To further complicate matters, it appears that there are four of Iraq’s 18 governorates that will be unable to participate in the elections because of the widespread violence.

A Sunni-Shiite “Divide”?

Some Iraqis who intend to vote are frustrated with the media attention focusing on the Sunni-Shiite “divide.”

“We will have the elections only because the Americans demand it.”

Responding to the question as to his religious sect, Ahmed would not say whether he was Shiite or Sunni: “Why should it matter? We are all Iraqi and we are all Muslim.”

Jassim—a 36-year-old grocery store owner in the predominantly Shiite district of Khadimiya—believes that “there is no reason for a Sunni-Shiite split.”

“It is only the political parties that are using this talk,” he added, “And it seems as though there are those who would like to cause a divide. But it will never happen, because we have never had this divide.”

Which Comes First: Democracy or Elections?

If the elections take place and a parliament is formed, its job will be to produce a constitution, which will then be held to a referendum prior to October 15 later this year. Shortly after that—on December
15—elections will be held in order to choose a new government, according to the Iraqi transitional law.

These plans seem far-fetched when looking through the lens of violence and turmoil that is Occupied Iraq today.

“Shouldn’t democracy precede elections,” exclaimed an unemployed engineer named Khalid in central Baghdad, “rather than trying to use these illegitimate elections to call Iraq a democracy?”

Summing up the political situation afflicting the upcoming elections, a veteran Iraqi politician who spoke on condition of anonymity told Al-Ahram Weekly newspaper, “It is clear that Sunni deputies will be
appointed, now that the Islamic party has withdrawn and the Association of Muslim Scholars is boycotting the elections.”

Further underscoring the chaos amidst the elections and their potential political fallout, he continued, “I don’t believe that the Americans are going to agree to the Kurdish demands concerning Kirkuk and one of the two top government posts. Nor are the Americans going to agree to the Shiite request for federalism and a majority in the National Assembly, nor to an Iranian-style regime.”

Another politician, speaking also to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity, asked, “What type of constitution are we to expect from elections that are held under occupation and right after the bloodshed in Falluja?”