Violence in Iraq grows as polls near

Alia Soliman , Thursday 10 Apr 2014

Militant attacks increase in Iraq ahead of this month's elections that could see Nouri Al-Maliki unseated from power

People walk past election campaign posters at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, April 10, 2014 (Photo: AP)
A series of attacks north of Baghdad killed eight soldiers Tuesday as Iraq’s election campaign enters its 10th day, leaving many believing that efforts taken to reach across the sectarian divide have failed.

Iraq’s electioneering campaign officially started 1 April marking a transition in the country's political crisis with the vote set for 30 April.

The campaigning by candidates was matched by an increase in violence in some provinces.

Not only will violence affect the political stability of Iraq, it also might raise — if it has not already raised — concern in Washington over the viability of the "democratic" system they brought to Iraq via military action over 10 years ago.

Security concerns

Iraqi analysts agree that security forces must guarantee the security of the vote so as to encourage participation.

Ahmed Ali, Iraq research analyst and Iraq Team lead at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in Washington DC, told Ahram Online that pre-election violence in Iraq is common and has happened in previous elections.

“The groups carrying out the violence, like ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), intend to disrupt the electoral process and prevent Iraqi Sunnis in particular from participating, leading to discrediting the political process.”

“The Iraqi government and Sunni clerics can play a major role in ensuring that Iraqi Sunnis embrace elections by encouraging participation and increasing security levels,” Ali states.

John Drake, Iraq specialist for AKE (a UK risk mitigation firm), says that given the ongoing frequency of terrorist attacks and killings in Iraq, the public are relatively resilient in the face of violence.

“Stability could be threatened if a senior political figure is killed, an unusually large number of civilians are killed, or if violence renders voting impossible in certain areas,” Drake states.

Joel Wing, Iraq analyst at Musings on Iraq, told Ahram Online that violence overall is reaching a level right now not seen since 2004 when an "insurgency" was first taking off.

“Candidates have been targeted along with security forces and the general public. The question is whether the security forces will be able to secure the vote,” Wing adds.

Rising concerns in Washington

The United States has grown increasingly concerned about post-withdrawal Iraq. The current violence taking place in Iraq is raising questions about the political system the US “designed” for Iraq following its 2003 invasion.

Fannar Haddad, author of Sectarianism in Iraq: Antagonistic Visions of Unity and lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, says that the US can't be pleased with their legacy in Iraq, but in terms of "viability" he thinks the current system has the resources with which to sustain itself.

“I can’t see any fundamental change of the system happening, unless either oil prices collapse or time brings about a generational change in leadership. And even then, there is no guarantee that the current stock will not perpetuate itself into the future,” Haddad adds.

Earlier in January, Secretary of State John Kerry made a statement that the US will stand with the government of Iraq as it pushes back against militants. However, he added that this was their fight.

Kerry also stated the United States is very concerned about ISIL, describing it as the “most dangerous player in the region.”

Wing told Ahram Online that the Obama administration tried to put Iraq on the back burner after the military withdrawal in 2011.

“Now the fighting in the country has forced it back into action. It is supplying the Iraqi forces with military supplies and recently tried some shuttle diplomacy to resolve the problems between the central government and and Kurdistan Regional Government over oil policy and the budget.”

“If anything, the violence will get Washington re-engaged with Iraq, and that might actually help with Iraq's deadlocked politics because the US is one of the few countries that hold influence with Iraq's elite,” Wing added.

Predicting the elections outcome

According to the website Global Security, some observers expect the election to be characterised by strong intra-sectarian competition, as opposed to the Shia versus Sunni rivalry that defined previous elections.

Among the Shia parties, rivalry centres on three major forces: the State of Law Coalition (SLC) of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki; the Muqtada Al-Sadr current; and the Supreme Islamic Council of Ammar Al-Hakim.

Ali told Ahram Online that Iraqi elections are known to present surprises, but there are a number of constant themes.

“The Iraqi Shia will vie for the prime minister position with Maliki aiming for a third term while his Iraqi Shia opponents will seek to either unseat him or limit his powers, and this is all dependent on the results,” Ali states.

“There is likely going to be a protracted government-formation period that will be used by groups like ISIS to foment violence. Finally, security will further deteriorate if the elections are not seen as free and fair, and if the results are not widely accepted,” Ali adds.

“My feeling is that Maliki is likely to secure his coveted third term. His incumbency, his considerable popularity and his track record in outmanoeuvring his opponents may mean that Maliki will be holding most of the cards when post-poll political bargaining commences,” Haddad told Ahram Online.

Wing states that he gives Maliki a 50-50 chance of staying in office.

“Maliki is hoping that the increasing violence will rally his Shia base behind him, because they fear the insurgency, and he will have the same if not better results than 2010,” Wing concludes.

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