Saturday, February 27, 2010

Iraq: A Report From Diyala on the Upcoming Elections

The Iraqi elections are scheduled for next Sunday, March 7, but they are still not getting as much coverage in the American media as I'd have expected.

According to Marc Santora in this morning's Times (here), the Sunnis cancelled their boycott of the elections and are now primed to participate. In fact, Santora says that Sunnis in Diyala Province are increasingly convinced that succeeding in elections is the one way they can ensure themselves a spot at the decision-making table:

In some ways, it is an inspiring measure of progress in Iraq that Sunni Muslims, the minority that long ran Iraq under Saddam Hussein, are trusting in the ballot box to improve their fortunes. But the hope they place in politics also reflects weakness: how sharply Sunnis’ choices have narrowed after nearly seven years of war. Past boycotts denied them electoral positions they might have won and deprived them of the spoils of power. Violence drew deadly retribution, from both American soldiers and Shiite death squads. Now elections seem the only way to forge a more formal and enduring political role.
Santora says that Shiites make up about 90% of the Army and police force in Diyala, and he says that there's very little commerce in the Sunni-dominated towns.

Santora writes about Najim al-Harbi, a leader of one of the Sunni parties:
Mr. Harbi, who gained widespread support for his role battling Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, has been the frequent target of assassination attempts, and 23 members of his family have been killed by militants. Six months ago, his 6-year-old son was kidnapped by Al Qaeda and killed. His arrest on terrorism charges, with no evidence made public, stirred anger and was viewed as politically motivated, because his slate of candidates poses a serious challenge to both Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s alliance and the candidates of other Shiite parties.

In Santora's article and the other articles I've read, it's unclear whether the elections could contribute to reconciliation or have the opposite effect and cause a new round of violence.

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Diyala Province has a population of about 1.4 million people and was one of the deadliest areas for American troops during the worst of the fighting. The capital is Baqubah, which is where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed (2006?).

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In this morning's Post, Ernesto Londono and Leila Fadel report (here) that Ahmad Chalabi's recently increased profile is making people nervous. Evidently Chalabi is one of the
most explicit anti-Sunni of the Shiite politicians, and he has been involved in the disqualification of a number of Sunni candidates based on their alleged past ties to the Baath Party.

422. What has happened with Tariq al Hashimi's proposal that 15% (rather than 5%) of parliamentary seats be reserved for exiles -- most of whom are Sunnis? I wrote about the proposal in November, here.

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