BAGHDAD - The elections due Jan. 30 appear to have brought more chaos and division
amongst Iraqis than unity and hope. And they have brought greater security fears.
U.S.-appointed prime minister Iyad Allawi acknowledged last week that full
security will be impossible. This despite the rather draconian measures his
interim government will have in place.
The government has announced plans to close borders Jan. 29-31. It will cut
mobile and satellite phone services, ban travel among Iraq's 18 provinces, lengthen
curfew hours, and restrict use of vehicles.
Security at polling stations will be heavy. The government plans to set up
three security rings around each of the 9,000 polling stations.
But the government is preparing for a bloody day despite such measures. The
health ministry has announced it will provide more hospital beds, medical supplies,
and staff for the day. The U.S. military will run extra patrols to respond faster
With at least eight candidates killed, and many others receiving daily death
threats, campaigning has mostly consisted of parties employing staff to post
leaflets and set up posters. Many of the posters are torn down the same day,
while others are burned.
The polling process itself is confusing many people. With 7,785 mostly unnamed
candidates on the lists of 83 coalitions of political parties, voters have little
idea whom they will be voting for. Each list contains between 83 and 275 candidates,
running on platforms championing all sorts of causes.
The candidate lists have names such as "The Security and Stability List,"
"The Security and Justice List." and the "Iraq List." Many
include fancy graphics, but few carry candidate photographs.
Allawi is a member of a list running under the slogan "For a strong, secure,
prosperous, democratic, and unified Iraq." Most candidate lists do not
mention the occupation of Iraq.
One election poster reads, "Let the polls be our answer to the car bombings
and insecurity." Another has a smiling face of a man with the promise that
this list will focus on restoring electricity.
The lists are mostly sectarian. Kurdish lists are focused on winning Kirkuk
for Kurds and obtaining a top government post. Shias have their own lists, some
seeking federalism, others an Iranian-style regime.
The Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni group, has called for a boycott
in protest against the destruction of Fallujah by the U.S. military. Local people
estimate that 90 percent of Sunnis will not vote. Members representing Sunni
Muslims would in that event have to be appointed..
Most voters are expected to be Shia Muslims. Their revered Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
has issued a fatwa instructing his followers to vote.
"I will vote because Sistani has told us this will help the country,"
said Abdel Hassan, a shoemaker in the predominantly Shia district Karrada in
Baghdad. "And I am ready to do anything to help my country."
Other Iraqis appear to be firmly against the elections.
"How can we vote when we don't know any of the candidates?" said
a Shia man who gave his name as Ghassan. "And how can any of them help
a country that is occupied by invaders?"
Just the fear of violence is certain to keep many voters at home. "We
don't know when the next bullet will come so we are staying in our homes most
of the time," said Abdulla Hamid, a 35-year-old father of five who sells
vegetables in Baghdad. "I would vote if there was security, but this election
is confusing to me and seems to be causing so many problems already."
Some believe voting will help security. "I will be voting for Allawi because
I think he can help Iraq," says Suthir Hamiz, whose husband works in the
supply department at a U.S. military camp. "I think he can bring security."
Hamoudi Aziz, who drives his car as a taxi while looking for a better job,
says the elections themselves have brought a worsening of the security situation.
"I'm not even safe in my own home under this martial law," he said
when asked if he will vote. "So how am I expected to vote for this crazy
(Inter Press Service)