Some See Hope, Others Civil War

BAGHDAD — Some Iraqis are hoping for a new unity following elections Jan. 30, but others seem convinced that existing divisions will increase, leading possibly to civil war.

While hundreds of thousands of Kurdish people are traveling from northern Iraq to Kirkuk to vote, many families in Baghdad are leaving the city in fear of a huge wave of violence.

Violence continues to escalate throughout Iraq in the run-up to the elections. Clashes flared Thursday again between occupation forces and the Iraqi resistance in Baghdad, Tikrit and Samarra.

One U.S. soldier was killed in an attack on a U.S. patrol in the Diyala province north- east of Baghdad Thursday, and three soldiers were killed in Baquba town in the area, about 60km north-east of Baghdad.

Iraqis are running into difficult days. The gasoline shortage continues to worsen. Many residents in Baghdad are struggling to pay the rising prices of heating gas, cooking gas and petrol.

Whether they intend to vote or not, many hope that elections will lead to better days, and that they will lead to more stability and unity. Others are skeptical.

“We hope these elections will bring unity between Shias, Sunnis and the Kurds,” said Abdel Aziz who works at a money exchange booth in Baghdad.

He said he did not know which list of political parties he will vote for because he found them confusing, but said the elections will not divide Iraq. “Only the radicals have brought this divisive thinking,” he said.

Many Iraqis are hopeful that despite the chaotic atmosphere around the electoral process, stability and unity will follow.

“I pray the elections will bring us unity,” said Ahmed Aziz, 25-year-old owner of a small grocery stall in central Baghdad. “If it is a legitimate election, we hope they will bring peace.” He paused before adding, “I hope it will be legitimate, but don’t know how we will be able to tell for sure.”

Hamoudi Abdulla, 35-year-old owner of a garments store out shopping for food with a friend in Karrada district because he feared violence on polling day, sounded optimistic. “The elections will unite us,” he said. Asked if he was Shia or Sunni, he replied, “I am Iraqi.”

His friend Hussam Hammad nodded in agreement. “There is no difference amongst us,” he added. “We are all Iraqi and we are all Muslims. An election cannot change this fact.”

But other Iraqis fear the elections will only bring division between them, by forcing them to make choices based on ethnicity such as a Kurdish identity, and on the basis of Sunni and Shia sects.

“No way these elections will bring more unity between Iraqis,” said 36-year-old hotel owner Khassem Mohammed. “The differences between Sunnis and Shia are over 1,400 years old. So how can this rushed election help bring more unity?”

The hotel owner from Jadriya district of Baghdad said Shia political parties will gain power and Sunni parties will disappear after the elections.

“Saddam led us into to all of our previous wars, but this time Iraqis are going to battle themselves because they are now choosing sides,” he added. “I fear civil war now.” That is a view several Iraqis seem to hold.

Jassim Khalid who operates a street-side tea stall on Arasat Street in Baghdad has decided to boycott the elections because he feels, like Mohammed, that they will bring division.

“I’m not voting because I don’t think the elections will bring unity to Iraq,” he said “In fact, they already appear to be doing the opposite.”

A hotel guard said Iraqis have never been divided between Shia and Sunni. “But these elections will cause a split because of the damned politicians and the influence of the Americans.”