Iraq votes in first elec­tion since de­feat­ing isis

The poll could bol­ster Iran’s role in Iraq and the Mid­dle East.

The Sunday Guardian - - World - REUTERS

Iraqis voted on Sat­ur­day in the first elec­tion since de­feat­ing Is­lamic State, al­though vot­ers said they had scant hope their new lead­ers would sta­bilise a coun­try be­set by con­flicts, eco­nomic hard­ship and cor­rup­tion.

De­pend­ing on the out­come, the poll could bol­ster Iran’s role in Iraq and the Mid­dle East. Aside from geopol­i­tics that have deep­ened sec­tar­ian di­vi­sions, Iraq faces chal­lenges af­ter a three-year war against Is­lamic State which cost the coun­try about $100 bil­lion. Much of the big­gest north­ern city of Mo­sul was re­duced to rub­ble. Se­cu­rity is still threat­ened by sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence, which erupted into a civil war at the height of a 2003-2011 US oc­cu­pa­tion that fol­lowed the fall of Sad­dam Hus­sein.

The vote’s vic­tors will have to con­tend with fall­out from US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to pull out of a nu­clear deal with Iran, a move Iraqis fear could turn their coun­try into a theatre of con­flict be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Tehran. The three main eth­nic and re­li­gious groups — the ma­jor­ity Shi’ite Arabs and mi­nor­ity Sunni Arabs and Kurds — have been at odds for decades, and sec­tar­ian di­vi­sions re­main as deep as ever even though they joined forces to fight Is­lamic State.

“I will par­tic­i­pate but I will mark an ‘X’ on my bal­lot. There is no se­cu­rity, no jobs, no ser­vices. Can­di­dates are just look­ing to line up their pock­ets, not to help peo­ple,” said Ja­mal Mowa­sawi, a 61-year-old butcher.

The three main can­di­dates for prime min­is­ter, all Shi’ites, are in­cum­bent Haider alAbadi, his pre­de­ces­sor Nuri al-Ma­liki and Shi’ite mili­tia com­man­der Hadi al-Amiri. All need the sup­port of Iran, which has eco­nomic and mili­tary sway in Iraq as the pri­mary Shi’ite power in the re­gion.

Abadi is con­sid­ered the fron­trun­ner by an­a­lysts, but vic­tory is far from cer­tain for the man who raised hopes he could forge unity when he came to of­fice four years ago, af­ter Is­lamic State swept through north­ern Iraq and Ma­liki was pushed out.

Abadi so­lid­i­fied his stand­ing with the vic­tory over Is­lamic State, which had oc­cu­pied a third of the coun­try. In of­fice he reached out to mi­nor­ity Sun­nis, al­though he also alien­ated Kurds af­ter crush­ing their bid for in­de­pen­dence. But he lacks charisma and has failed to im­prove the econ­omy and tackle cor­rup­tion, and can­not rely solely on votes from his com­mu­nity as the Shi’ite voter base is split this year. Even if Abadi’s Vic­tory Al­liance list wins the most seats, he still must ne­go­ti­ate a coali­tion gov­ern­ment, which must be formed within 90 days of the elec­tion. Amiri, 63, spent more than two decades fight­ing Sad­dam from ex­ile in Iran and leads the Badr Or­gan­i­sa­tion, the back­bone of the vol­un­teer forces that fought Is­lamic State. Vic­tory for Amiri would be a win for Iran, which is locked in proxy wars for in­flu­ence across the Mid­dle East with Saudi Ara­bia.

But many Iraqis are dis­il­lu­sioned with war he­roes and politi­cians who have failed to re­store state in­sti­tu­tions and pro­vide badly needed health and ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices. Some peo­ple ex­pressed frus­tra­tions at tech­ni­cal prob­lems which kept them from vot­ing in Fal­luja, and was dev­as­tated by bat­tles be­tween US troops and in­sur­gents dur­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion.

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