With Iraqi 2014 elec­tions, se­cu­rity and na­tional unity al­ready un­der the strain, Iraqis may not see an­other elec­tion come 2018

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

When the first free elec­tions took hold in Iraq un­der the aus­pices of the U.S., it was cer­tainly a mile­stone in the his­tory of Iraq. Wash­ing­ton, hands deep in the Iraqi po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity pic­ture at the time, ac­cepted that the tran­si­tional road to democ­racy and na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was go­ing to be rocky and pro­tracted but hoped that with time Iraq would see much light un­der the tun­nel.

In 2014 as Iraqis pre­pare for their third na­tional elec­tions on 30th April 2014, close to 11 years since the ouster of Sad­dam, Iraqi sta­bil­ity, se­cu­rity and na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion re­mains dor­mant at best but cer­tainly not a far cry from 2006.

Iraq is cur­rently locked in the worst sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence since the height of its crip­pling civil war. There were over 9000 deaths in 2013 and al­ready 2000 this year. Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki has used an iron fist to quell a new Sunni in­sur­gency, clearly rein­vig­o­rated by the Syr­ian con­flict next door that has seen Sunni mil­i­tants roam in large parts of the An­bar prov­ince and oc­cupy the flash­point town of Fal­lu­jah, on the doorstep of Bagh­dad.

Ma­liki’s re­sponse to mass Sunni protests at the po­lit­i­cal marginal­i­sa­tion by the Shi­ite led govern­ment drove a wider wedge in the sec­tar­ian di­vide but more im­por­tantly alien­ated mod­er­ate Sunni fac­tions. It must not be for­got­ten, it was the Sunni Sahwa or Awak­en­ing Coun­cils that ul­ti­mately drove al-Qaeda out of the Sunni heart­lands at the height of the sec­tar­ian in­sur­gency in 20072008, not di­rect Amer­i­can fire-power.

Ma­liki has even re­verted to Tehran to pur­chase weapons, at the dis­may of Wash­ing­ton, which threat­ens to ex­tend the re­gional Sunni-Shi­ite bat­tle clearly on dis­play in Syria.

If the his­toric Sunni headache was not bad enough, Ma­liki has hardly cre­ated many friends in Kur­dis­tan. Dis­con­tent be­tween Kurds and Bagh­dad is not new es­pe­cially over oil ex­ports, na­tional budget and dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries, but on the eve of the elec­tions and with Ma­liki ef­fec­tively putting Kur­dis­tan un­der an eco­nomic siege by with­hold­ing na­tional budget pay­ments and re­fus­ing to com­pro­mise on Kur­dish oil ex­ports via Turkey, this is al­ready mak­ing a fu­ture na­tional unity govern­ment an ar­du­ous if not im­pos­si­ble task.

If this wasn’t prov­ing a dif­fi­cult enough back­drop, the en­tire mem­bers of the Iraqi In­de­pen­dent High Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (IHEC) pre­sented their res­ig­na­tion last week. If ac­cepted by the govern­ment, it all but ends any chance of hold­ing elec­tions on sched­ule even as most par­ties in­sist on it been held on time.

Some Sunni groups have il­lus­trated the IHEC po­si­tion and the poor se­cu­rity con­di­tion in Sunni-dom­i­nated ar­eas as rea­sons why polls should be de­layed. If Sun­nis are not ad­e­quately rep­re­sented at the polls as in 2006 when they largely boy­cotted the vote, it will strike a blow to the cred­i­bil­ity of any govern­ment be­fore it has even started.

Ul­ti­mately, the IHEC will not be al­lowed to stand-down but such a move by the com­mis­sion ow­ing to their great frus­tra­tion over po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence sums up the neg­a­tive mood sur­round­ing these elec­tions.

The UN sup­ported the IHEC and praised them for been tech­ni­cally well pre­pared and for their in­tegrity. This sen­ti­ment was echoed by the US govern­ment.

The IHEC com­plained that it was caught in the mid­dle of con­flict­ing rul­ings be­tween the leg­isla­tive and ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties par­tic­u­larly around the va­lid­ity of cer­tain can­di­dates from the elec­tion. A vague pro­vi­sion in Iraq’s elec­toral law that re­quires Iraqi can­di­dates to be of “good rep­u­ta­tion” has been ma­nip­u­lated and in­ter­preted to suit po­lit­i­cal agen­das. Crit­ics of Ma­liki have waged that this pro­vi­sion has been abused to bol­ster Ma­liki’s quest for a third term in of­fice.

At a lo­cal level in the Kirkuk prov­ince there was a sim­i­lar di­vide over hold­ing of elec­tions in the prov­ince. Arabs have sought to de­lay elec­tions with Kurds and most Turk­men groups in­sis­tent that it must be held on time.

Iraqis broke a world record to form a govern­ment af­ter elec­tions in 2010. Even then many of the agree­ments that un­der­pinned the even­tual break­through have not been im­ple­mented. Form­ing a govern­ment in 2014 will be even more dif­fi­cult.

Ei­ther way, if the de­clin­ing Iraqi po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and se­cu­rity spi­ral continues into the next govern­ment with Kur­dis­tan and Bagh­dad fail­ing to bridge the grow­ing di­vide and Sunni-Shi­ite po­lar­i­sa­tion deep­en­ing, there may not be an­other elec­tion come 2018.

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