Friday, January 30, 2009

Provincial elections take place tomorrow

Yesterday, three people were assassinated in Iraq, presumably because they were running for office in the upcoming provincial elections (scheduled for Saturday in fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces). Zaid Sabah and Qais Mizher identify the three in "Three Sunni Candidates Slain Days Before Elections" (Washington Post):

Hazam Salim Ahmad, a candidate for the National Unity list, was killed as he left his house in the city of Mosul, where Sunni Arabs and Kurds are vying for control amid attacks by the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. The assault came hours after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki paid a visit to the northern city. Tribal chieftains linked to Maliki lead Ahmad's party.
In Diyala province, gunmen kidnapped Abbas Farhan al-Jubouri, a candidate for the secular National Movement of Reform and Development, after a campaign rally in Mandali, 56 miles east of the provincial capital, Baqubah, said Brig. Gen. Raghib Radhi, a spokesman for the Diyala police. "Three hours later the police found his dead body along with the bodies of two of his aides," Radhi said.
In Baghdad's Amiriyah neighborhood, gunmen killed Omar Faruq al-Ani, a candidate with the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni political bloc. The assailants stormed into his house minutes after he returned from a campaign rally Thursday evening and shot him four times, police said.

The New York Times tells you Abbas Farham al-Jubouri (whom they identify as Abbas Farhan al-Azzawi) "was pasting his election posters to a wall when he was killed with his brother and another relative. That candidate, Abbas Farhan al-Azzawi, was a colonel in the former Iraqi Army and a member of the Reform and Development Party, a predominantly Sunni group. The party includes members of the former security forces and members of the Awakening movement, which has many insurgents who decided to change sides and work with the Americans against extremists." If we note the article in the snapshot, we'll credit it to Alissa J. Rubin. It's credited that way online. On A12 of the national edition, the byline to the exact same story reads: "by The New York Times."

On the verge of elections, Leila Fadel and Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) profile Badirya Waleh Hababa who became a widow four years ago, lost her first son during the 1980s (Iran-Iraq war) and lost her second son to unknown assailants who drug him from their "home in 2006 as he was eating dinner." Despite begging them not to take her son, they did. In the nearly three years since, she's been unable even to locate his corpse. From the article:

"What's left to preserve?" she asked. Her home is empty, twice looted of everything she owned. Its gray walls are graced with a prayer and the names of God, his Prophet Muhammad and the prophet's son-in-law Ali.
"I was afraid, and I'm still afraid," she said. "I don't care for any of this. Democracy is important to me? I have nothing left. I'm sitting here waiting for God to reclaim my soul."
Then she stopped, looked down and said three words over and over again:
"I want peace."

Fadel and al Dulaimy have another article, a more creative one where, from Iraq, they peer into Barack Obama's soul and tell you what he really "hopes". No, it's not reporting. But maybe they can include it in an anthology: 'Journalists' Who Love Too Much?

Today, as is often case lately, Kim Gamel (AP) stakes out the ground the discussion will be moving to. Gamel's reporting on Mosul -- the city that replaced Baghdad as the most violent by the end of 2008 if you measure solely by the number of deaths. "Mosul is a show down for power between Arabs and Kurds," Gamel notes of the Iraqi city dominated currently by Kurds on their council despite the fact that Kurds do not constitute the largest segment of the population.

Throughout Iraq, borders and airports will close for Saturday's elections (through early the next morning and beginning on Friday) but Gamel informs that Mosul will be banning street traffic starting on Monday and the citizens have been told "to stay at home until they are ready to vote the following day."

Gamel identifies the hopes of US officials: A large Sunni turn out which they believe will vest Arabs in the government and cut down on the tensions.

That's only one of the tensions in Mosul; however, there's also the competition between Sunni and Kurd and Sunni's taking control of the council will increase more tensions on Sunni v. Kurd front.

Earlier this week, Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) became the first to grasp, "Maybe US audiences aren't all grasping what 'provincial elections' mean?" He offers that they are "the equivalent of an American state legislature" and today Gamel adds to that: "Provincial councils choose the governor and wield tremendous power at the local level. The current Kurdish-dominated council has been heavily criticized for failing to provide local services or security."

In today's New York Times, Ian Fisher also reports on Mosul:

Now the council has 37 seats, and Arabs, represented by two main parties, are expected to win, and Kurds largely accept that -- one reason, many here say, that the violence, while still much higher than in most of Iraq, has not flared more. On Thursday night, however, a candidate who is an adviser on tribal affairs to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was assassinated outside his house in Mosul. But even if it is too dangerous for candidates to shake hands in the streets, where wild dogs rove over rubble and garbage, 55 voter registration stations survived the campaign unscathed.
"People think these elections will be different," said Maj. Gen. Hassan Kareem Khidir, commander of Iraqi Army operations in Nineveh, who has much to gain from the calm. Outside his fortified office a plaque lists the names of 523 security officers killed just since May. "The major factor in Nineveh is not security or military -- it's political," he said.
But the full picture is more clouded and complex, a backdrop for the long-running tensions between Kurds and Arabs that many fear may intensify after the elections.
One major struggle is local control, embodied in these elections and which the Kurds advocate, versus the strong central state that Saddam Hussein long used to keep in line Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and other groups.

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