The thousands of schools being used as polling places were ringed with coils of razor wire days ago, and police began 24-hour guard at them earlier in the week. "We have many important people who may come here to vote, so it has to be well protected," said police Lt. Dhia Khadim on Friday afternoon as he showed visitors around a polling station in Karada, a Baghdad neighborhood that is home to several high-ranking Iraqi officials.
Baghdad, though, is not the area of greatest concern to military and political leaders. They are keeping their eyes on the volatile northern provinces, particularly Nineveh and Diyala. Both provinces' councils -- the equivalent of U.S. state legislatures -- exemplify the problematic power structures resulting from the last election in 2005 when most Sunni Arabs boycotted the vote. As a result, the provincial councils there are dominated by Shiites and Kurds, despite their heavy Sunni Arab populations. The lopsided situation has been blamed for fueling sectarian violence that has killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Earlier in the week, two Sunni Arab candidates -- one in Diyala and one in Nineveh -- were shot and killed by unknown assailants.
The above is from Tina Susman's "IRAQ: At long last, provincial elections" (Los Angeles Times' Babylon & Beyond). The "benchmark" set by the White House in 2006 (put into writing in early 2007) of provincial elections still has not come to pass and it's important to remember that today. All this time later and Iraq cannot hold provincial elections.
But they're taking place today!
In fourteen of the eighteen provinces. Three of the provinces (Kurdish controlled) allgedly will hold elections later this year and no one knows if or when Kirkuk will be allowed to hold elections at this point. The benchmark was provincial elections across Iraq -- not in portions. That's what the 'benchmark' required. The 'benchmark' still hasn't been met. It was supposed to be met before Bush left the White House. Provincial elections were not only supposed to be scheduled across Iraq (all of Iraq), they were supposed to take place.
Kirkuk is one aspect. Who will control the oil-rich area? The Kurds swear it's their region while the central government out of Baghdad wants dibs. This problem didn't just emerge. And while the occupying power (the US) was supposedly in Iraq doing something of value, the Kurdish region forced their own people out and into Kirkuk in an effort to change the population of the region. (These refugees live in tents and at a stadium and where ever they can.)
Kirkuk was set aside for the election.
Because no one wanted to deal with it.
Now it can be argued that it is not the place of the US to deal with it. That's a sound argument. But the longer the US remains in Iraq (six years this March) and refuses to deal with it, the longer Iraqis are not able to deal with it. If the US had left in 2005 or 2007, for example, chances are the Iraqis would have hashed out the issue already. (Maybe with a great deal of violence, maybe without. But the longterm benefits of the US being out of that decision can be seen by thinking of the recent slaughter of Gaza and the US part in slicing up that land and 'deciding' all those decades ago.) By not addressing it, tensions have inflamed and everyone is even angrier.
The decision on Kirkuk cannot be delayed before. The US presence prevents a decision.
Leaving aside that issue, it's equally true the Parliament didn't seem to know what they wanted to do for the majority of 2008. They knew they didn't want al-Maliki's 'plan' (the US plan that the puppet pushed) and that was a smart move. But were they attempting to delay elections? If so, they achieved that; however, there's no indication that this was the reasoning behind the delay and it just appeared Parliament was highly dysfunctional. (And that was when they had a speaker. They still don't have a speaker after ousting him in mid-December.) So they rejected al-Maliki's/US plan repeatedly in 2008 and most publicly in July of that year. Then the fall came around and what was finally pushed through wasn't a great deal different.
The United Nations had stepped in at that point and was urging Kirkuk should be set aside. And, again, that's an issue that needs to be dealt with. It needs to be decided by Iraqis because, as Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham once sang, "Races are run, some people win, some people have to lose." The losing side on Kirkuk will either take the decision as the will of the people of Iraq or as theft. If it's the latter (and it most likely will be the latter), for years and decades this will fester.
The US will take blame because they started the illegal war and much more. But if the US imposes a decision on Kirkuk, they'll take on even more blame and you'll have another international issue. There's no reason for the US to decide -- Iraq's not a colony. But there will be no free decision while the US is Iraq.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) covers Abbas Faraj's campaign. The 36-year-old woman
saw her husband, Hussein al-Zubaidi, abducted by "Shiite-dominated security forces" last August and that was the last she's heard of him. His kidnapping -- by government forces -- is the motivation for her run: "His detention was political, and after he was detained, I decided that I would go all the way and make every effort to reach a position where I can make a difference."
She is one of the 3900 women running for the 444 seats this election (there are approximately 14,400 candidates running) to which she points out, "I don't know why they consider this to be an achievement, because women make up more than 60 percent of the population. This is something we are looking to change in the future. If women win, we would have more peace and less violence."
The New York Times profiles three candidates on A5 (national edition) in a piece entitled "The Candidates." No link because I can't find it online. Here's a link to the MidEast section of the paper. Sam Dagher profiles Zeinab Sadiq Jaafar (all three candidates have their photos printed, by the way -- noted because some women running for offices are not allowing photos due to safety concerns) and she's an attorney running in Basra:
Over the last month, she hunted for votes in the city's worst neighborhoods. An independent, Ms. Jaafar makes the case that she is an "authentic" daughter of Basra who better understands her city's anxieties and needs. She empahsizes that unlike many candidates, she is not backed by some big shot from Baghdad. She also wants to prove that women can compete and win in politics in Iraq on their own merit.
Alissa J. Rubin profiles Haithem Ahmed Alam Khalaf who is a "38-year-old sheik" and is running in Abu Ghriab. He says:
There were many violations of human rights in our area by the Iraqi Army; it is better now, but honestly, the official departments of the government were not at the level we were expecting.
He's an "Awakening." Timothy Williams profiles Khalid Shakar al-Dulaimi who is a 44-year-old man running in Baghdad and is running as a member of the Gathering of Iraqi Nationalists and Labor. He states:
The Sunnis and Shiite religious parties failed their opprotunity and involved the country in unrest. People want new faces and new ideas.
The paper is liveblogging the elections.
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alissa j. rubin