Saturday, October 09, 2021

Apathy and other obstacles in Iraq


FRANCE 24 notes of the above:

In the autumn of 2019, an unprecedented protest movement engulfed the Iraqi capital Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite south of the country. Demonstrators were angry at the widespread corruption and incompetence of the political class, but also the influence of neighbouring Iran and its militias. An extremely violent crackdown left at least 600 dead and 21,000 injured in just a few months. Meanwhile, the leaders of the protest movement became the target of assassinations. As Iraq prepares to hold parliamentary elections, more and more voices are accusing pro-Iranian armed groups of being behind a campaign of systematic violence. FRANCE 24's Jonathan Walsh and Amar Al Hameedawi report.                 

Ahead of elections, Assyrians are worried that their designated seats will be stolen while Yazidis fear that they themselves have too many candidates and the Iran-linked Fatah bloc is convinced that they should be forming the next government by winning the most seats in Parliament but recent events (including early voting regulations) have harmed their chances.  The Fatah bloc's chief rival?  The supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.  One pre-election poll out of Baghdad has Moqtada's bloc winning the most seats in Parliament.   We'll note this Tweet:

As Iraq heads to elections, parties linked to Iran battle a growing backlash via

The early elections have only been scheduled because of the brave protesters. The October Revolution  kicked off protests in the fall of 2019 and forced the prime minister to step down and early elections to be announced.  As ARAB WEEKLY notes, "Tens of thousands of Iraqi youths took to the streets to decry rampant corruption, poor services and unemployment. Hundreds died as security forces used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds."  This is what forced the resignation of one prime minister and has led to national elections which are supposed to take place October 10th.  (Qualified members of the Iraqi military voted October 8th.)     that the candidates for Parliament include 951 women ("close to 30% of the total number of candidates") who are running for the 329 seats.  Halgurd Sherwani (KURDISTAN 24) has reported Jeanine Hannis-Plasschaert, the Special Representiative in Iraq to the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, declared that Iraq's "Female candidates face increasing levels of hate speech, violence, and blackmail intended to force them to withdraw their candidacy." 

Sinan Mahmoud (THE NATIONAL) reports:

Despite the many challenges facing women in Iraq’s male-dominated society, Nissan Al Salhy is determined to pursue a career in politics.

The Arabic teacher from the southern province of Dhi Qar is vying for a seat in parliament in Sunday's national elections, joining a new generation of young women seeking a powerful role in politics for the first time in their lives.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, “the situation of women in Iraq has been very bad”, Ms Al Salhy, 45, told The National while on her way to an event to speak to women voters.

“They are under huge pressure in a traditionally male-dominated society regardless of whether they are strong or not,” she said.

Female candidates running in Sunday's election say they will work on pushing women's issues to the fore in a country where women’s rights are being eroded. They say they are undaunted by the hardships they face, including cyber bullying and harassment.


Former MP Noura al-Bajari, who is standing in Nineveh province, defended women's ability to achieve a lot for their areas. Al-Bajari said: "There are a lot of women on the candidate lists, especially in the densely populated areas which were liberated from IS control". She explained that some of the women are former ministers and others aren't, but "all of them have a clear popular following and wield influence in their communities".

She said: "There is a growing trust in the competence of women and their ability to provide more services and stability in these regions and a belief that they will take the role seriously". She explained that "popular support for women candidates has increased due to the lack of corruption scandals around women, and women's voices are becoming stronger".

Sinan Mahmoud (THE NATIONAL) counts 3,249 people in all seeking seats in Parliament  BROOKINGS notes this is a huge drop from 2018 when 7,178 candidates ran for office.   

In the KRG, the KDP party is expected to win the most votes and this belief has led the struggling PUK party to form an alliance with the politically independent (but CIA-backed) Goran ("Change") party. The Kurdistan's Prime Minister Marour Barzani (a KDP member) issued the following statement this week:

Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq (GOV.KRD) - I welcome today’s Joint Statement by Iraq’s international partners about the upcoming early parliamentary elections.

I also strongly welcome the support from our international friends and partners to facilitate free, fair and credible elections, in particular the provision of international monitors and observers through UNAMI, the EU and others. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will ensure full access and freedom of movement for the international teams, and encourages them to provide sufficient monitoring across this diverse country, including the disputed territories. This support is critical for the integrity of the electoral process as a whole.

It is important that candidates can campaign freely without fear of violence or intimidation so that the elections deliver a genuine democratic outcome for all Iraqis and for Iraq’s friends in the international community. Following the election, the KRG hopes that the international teams, and our partners, will provide recommendations to strengthen electoral processes across the whole of Iraq.

Masrour Barzani

 RUDAW is among those noting perceived voter apathy, "Turnout for Iraq’s October 10 parliamentary election is expected to be a record low, with a recent poll predicting just 29 percent of eligible voters will cast ballots." Human Rights Watch has identified another factor which may impact voter turnout, "People with disabilities in Iraq are facing significant obstacles to participating in upcoming parliamentary elections on October 10, 2021, due to discriminatory legislation and inaccessible polling places, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Without urgent changes, hundreds of thousands of people may not be able to vote.  The 36-page report, “‘No One Represents Us’: Lack of Access to Political Participation for People with Disabilities in Iraq,” documents that Iraqi authorities have failed to secure electoral rights for Iraqis with disabilities. People with disabilities are often effectively denied their right to vote due to discriminatory legislation and inaccessible polling places and significant legislative and political obstacles to running for office."  And Human Rights Watch Tweets:

“Every election day is the most depressing day for me,” said Suha Khalil, 44, who uses a wheelchair said she has never participated in an election. “Everyone goes to vote and I am stuck at home waiting for the day to end.” #IraqElection Take action:

The Assyrian Policy Institute Tweets, "Electoral reforms in Iraq instituted following the Iraqi protests did not involve minority stakeholders and failed to address the exploitation of the minority quota system.  Assyrians will largely be deterred from voting on Oct. 10 as a result."

 Another obstacle is getting the word out on a campaign.  Political posters are being torn down throughout Iraq.  Halgurd Sherwani  (KURDiSTAN 24) observes, "Under Article 35 of the election law, anyone caught ripping apart or vandalizing an electoral candidate's billboard could be punished with imprisonment for at least a month but no longer than a year, Joumana Ghalad, the spokesperson for the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), told a press conference on Wednesday."  And there's also the battles in getting out word of your campaign online.  THE NEW ARAB reported weeks ago, "Facebook is restricting advertisements for Iraqi political parties and candidates in the run-up to the country's parliamentary elections, an official has told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site."

THE WASHINGTON POST's Louisa Loveluck Tweeted: of how "chromic mistrust in [the] country's political class" might also lower voter turnout.  Mina Aldroubi (THE NATIONAL) also notes, "Experts are predicting low turnout in October due to distrust of the country’s electoral system and believe that it will not deliver the much needed changes they were promised since 2003."  Mistrust would describe the feelings of some members of The October Revolution.  Mustafa Saadoun (AL-MONITOR) notes some of their leaders, at the recent  Opposition Forces Gathering conference announced their intent to boycott the elections because they "lack integrity, fairness and equal opportunities."  Distrust is all around. The President of Iraq has identified corruption as one of the biggest issues in Iraq.  Halkawt Aziz  (RUDAW) reported on how, " In Sadr City, people are disheartened after nearly two decades of empty promises from politicians."   Karwan Faidhi Dri (RUDAW) explains, "People in Basra are not hopeful that the parliamentary election will bring about meaningful change and reform. The southern Iraqi province has seen several large anti-government protests in recent years."  AFP notes, "But the ballot has generated little enthusiasm among Iraq’s 25 million voters, while the activists and parties behind the uprising have largely decided to boycott the ballot."  Even THE ECONOMIST notes that "it now seems that most Iraqis will boycott the event."  While NPR explains that "many Iraqis say they see no reason to vote. The current parties in power -- many backed by militias involved in attacks that killed some 600 demonstrators -- are poised to dominate again, according to political analysts. Young Iraqis say they don't see any future for themselves in their country."

How to address apathy?  Ignore it and redo how you'll count voter turnout.  RUDAW reports, "raq’s election commission announced on Sunday that turnout for the election will be calculated based on the number of people who have biometric voter cards, not the number of eligible voters. The move will likely inflate turnout figures that are predicted to hit a record low."  As for the apathy, John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed (REUTERS) convey this image

Iraq’s tortured politics are graphically illustrated in a town square in the south, where weathered portraits displayed on large hoardings honor those killed fighting for causes they hoped would help their country.

The images of thousands of militiamen whose paramilitary factions battled ISIS hang beside those of hundreds of young men killed two years later protesting against the same paramilitaries.

KURDISTAN 24 quotes political leader Ayad Allawi stating, "Corruption, illegal weapons in the hands of militias, armed groups, political money, and regional interference are the reasons for having no suitable election environment in Iraq."  While Chatham House's Renad Masnour notes Iraq's current system is "unable to . . . provide sufficient jobs or services."  ANEWS Tweets:

#Iraq's President #BarhamSalih says he expects difficulties in carrying out the country's coming elections.


After the election, there will be a scramble for who has dibs on the post of prime minister.  Jean Shaoul (WSWS) notes:

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Washington’s man in Baghdad who lacks both popular support and a political base, is seeking a second term as prime minister in Saturday’s elections that have been brought forward to appease protesters.

The former intelligence officer became prime minister in May 2020. He did so after months-long mass protests, starting in October 2019 against inequality, poverty, corruption, the sectarian-ethnic political system and its rival external backers Washington and Tehran, that swept across Baghdad and Iraq’s southern region, brought down the government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

The government sought to put down the protests, the largest since 2003 and known as the Tishreen (October) movement, with lethal force. It deployed the security forces and paramilitary groups to shoot down more than 600 protestors, further inflaming tensions until the pandemic and the accompanying restrictions emptied the streets.

The repression has continued under al-Kadhimi, with militias affiliated to the various political parties assassinating 34 political activists, local leaders and outspoken journalists and critics, including Hisham al-Hashimi, a critic of Iraq’s militias.

Mustafa's achieved nothing as prime minister but he does love to string together meaningless words.  Bobby Ghosh (BLOOMBERG NEWS) notes Mustafa continues serving up meaningless words:

[. . .] Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi claims he has no skin in the game. Since he is keeping his pledge not to run for parliament, this will be the first time, Kadhimi boasted in a tweet, that a sitting prime minister will not be standing in the election.

But this is no more than a piece of political kabuki. Kadhimi may not be a candidate for parliament but he is definitely running to remain prime minister.

Murat Sofuoglu (TRT) observes, "The walls of Baghdad are covered with posters of Iraq’s former leaders, especially Nouri al Maliki and Haidar al Abadi, as the country moves toward its early elections on October 10. Both men however were forced out of power for their incompetence, and yet they are leading in the country’s two powerful Shia blocks."  Outside of Baghdad?  THE NEW ARAB explains, "However, in the provinces of Anbar, Saladin, Diyala, Nineveh, Kirkuk, Babel and the Baghdad belt, candidates have focussed on the issue of the disappeared and promised to attempt to find out what happened to them."

People pretend the elections are above board, but they aren't.  Even the list of candidates doesn't follow the law.  Harith Hasan (MIDDLE EAST EYE) explains:

Undeniably, there has been a considerable improvement in the technical preparations and procedures aimed at preventing fraud and irregularities. Yet, when it comes to the more substantial measures that could secure a fair competition, the election commission could not go beyond the red lines drawn by dominant parties.

None of these parties was disqualified because of their obvious connection to armed groups (which is constitutionally forbidden but, if implemented, would practically mean banning all major parties). Nor was there any effort to enforce transparency in the dominant parties’ fundraising activities.

Constitutionally forbidden.  No wiggle room there.  

Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has 90 candidates in his bloc running for seats in the Parliament and one of those, Hassan Faleh, has insisted to RUDAW, "The position of the next prime minister is the least that the Sadrist movement deserves, and we are certain that we will be the largest and strongest coalition in the next stage."  Others are also claiming the post should go to their bloc such as the al-Fatah Alliance -- the political wing of the Badr Organization (sometimes considered a militia, sometimes considered a terrorist group).  ARAB WEEKLY reported, "Al-Fateh Alliance parliament member Naim Al-Aboudi said that Hadi al-Amiri is a frontrunner to head the next government, a position that can only be held by a Shia, according to Iraq’s power-sharing agreement."  Some also insist the prime minister should be the head of the State of Law bloc, two-time prime minister and forever thug Nouri al-Maliki.  Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters do not agree and have the feeling/consensus that,  "Nouri al-Maliki has reached the age of political menopause and we do not consider him to be our rival because he has lost the luster that he once had so it is time for him to retire."

In one surprising development, Dilan Sirwan (RUDAW) has reported: "Iraq’s electoral commission aims to announce the results of the upcoming parliamentary elections on October 10 within 24 hours, they announced on Thursday following a voting simulation."

As early elections kicked off, Iraqi Observatory of Human Rights is offered a live stream on FACEBOOK with analysis and information.  Amnesty International's Rand Hammoudi was among the participants.


Of tomorrow's elections, Zeina Karam and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) note:

Iraq’s elections on Sunday come with enormous challenges: Iraq’s economy has been battered by years of conflict, endemic corruption and more recently, the coronavirus pandemic. State institutions are failing, the country’s infrastructure is crumbling. Powerful paramilitary groups increasingly threaten the authority of the state, and hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced from the years of war against the Islamic State group.

While few Iraqis expect meaningful change in their day-to-day lives, the parliament elections will shape the direction of Iraq’s foreign policy at a key time in the Middle East, including as Iraq is mediating between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

The following sites updated:


Keith Olbermann's Unhinged Authoritarian Rant


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