Iraq’s April 30 Elections: Consolidating Democratic Gains or Cementing Sectarian Divides?

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Later this month, Iraqis will go to the polls to elect new members of the Council of Representatives, the country’s legislative body, as well as members of provincial assemblies in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Preparations for the April 30 elections have been turbulent to date, with looming questions regarding the ability of displaced Iraqis to participate in the polls; the controversial disqualification of certain candidates; and the now-rescinded resignation of the commissioners of the Independent High Electoral Commission, the body charged with organizing the polls. Sectarian rhetoric and ethnic appeals have also characterized the campaign messages of certain candidates and party coalitions.

Amid sharpening sectarian divisions and an increasingly precarious security environment, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) present a panel of experts to share their perspectives on Iraq’s national elections, and what they mean for the country’s democratic development.NDI recently conducted a nationwide pre-election poll to gauge citizen perspectives on prospects for peaceful elections; anticipated voter participation rates and shifts in partisan support; and longer-term issues such as perceived improvements or declines in cross-cutting issues such as security, basic service provision, employment and education. The results reveal distinct regional divides and opinions on the country’s state of play ahead of these critical elections.

NDI’s Iraq-based Resident Director, Elvis Zutic, will discuss the poll’s key findings and his views on the country’s political, electoral and security contexts. Discussants will complement his assessment with analyses of the importance of these elections, and how the outcome of the polls will impact Iraq’s broader development progress and its relationships with regional and international actors.

Featured Speakers:

Elvis Zutic Resident Director, NDI Iraq

Sarhang Hamasaeed Senior Program Officer, Middle East and North Africa Programs, USIP

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad Former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations Counselor, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Manal Omar, Moderator Associate Vice President for the Middle East and Africa, USIP

RSVP

Iraq’s tipping point? Invasion prevented Syria-like civil war, says Blair

Iraq(2)Iraq would have been engulfed in a civil war like that in Syria if Britain had not invaded it, Tony Blair has claimed.

The Arab Spring – the wave of pro-democracy uprisings – would have spread to Iraq had Saddam Hussein not been toppled by force, triggering a conflict like that in Syria, the former Prime Minister said. ….Last year saw the highest levels of violence in the country since 2007, and around half a million people have died since the 2003 invasion due to war, according to an academic study published last year.

But Mr Blair said: “Supposing you had left Saddam in place, I think it is reasonably arguable, surely, that you would have had the so-called Arab Spring come to Iraq,” The Daily Telegraph reports.

“If it had come to Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, it was going to come to Iraq and you would be facing what you’re facing in Syria now in Iraq.”

He added: “In the end what we know now, and we can see this very clearly by the way from Libya, is that when you remove the dictatorship, that is the beginning, not the end.”

USIP

USIP

Iraqis fully appreciate the consequence that April 30 holds this year. Elections are the only vestige of hope the Americans left behind in Iraq, says Dr. Saleh Mutlaq (left), the chairman of the Al Arabia Coalition and deputy prime minister of Iraq.

“Just as Russia today plays an enormous and frightening role in determining Ukraine’s future, so, too, do we increasingly feel the heavy breath of a powerful neighbor, Iran, in so many of the daily events of Iraq, he writes for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab:

Since the American invasion, the international community has thought of Iraq in terms of three major groups: the Shiites, who share a sect of Islam with Iranians; the Kurds, who make no secret of their desire for greater autonomy; and the Sunnis, who are blamed by the current constitution for most of the sins of Iraq’s history over the past half-century. ….. This simplistic understanding of Iraq cedes too much power to the modern agents of sectarianism while giving short shrift to the idea of national unity, which the vast majority of Iraqis still share.

For more than a year, Iraqis have also been taking to the streets, compelled by the strong and growing belief that the sectarian policies of the current government have marginalized Sunnis to benefit the more extreme elements of Maliki’s electoral base. Government jobs are given disproportionately to Shiites, especially in the security services. Meanwhile, many Sunnis have been unjustly subjected to “de-Baathification” procedures, labeled as terrorists, and imprisoned without the due process of law. ….

I asked political leaders in Washington to consider attaching conditions on their sale of Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles to Maliki’s military. Many Iraqis are rightfully concerned that these weapons will used against Maliki’s perceived opponents and political rivals rather than al Qaeda. For this, Maliki’s channel accuses me of treason. …..

Portraying a group of citizens as terrorists is a sectarian policy, and Washington needs to be more careful than it has been in recent years about accepting such characterizations as fact. The unconditional transfer of weapons to Maliki’s security forces implies that the United States endorses his increasingly heavy-handed policies. But the most important message Washington can send (assuming, of course, that its powers-that-be care about the fate of Iraqi democracy), is that the outcome of this election is not pre-ordained. …..

April 30 could well be a tipping point for Iraq. If the will of the people is again denied — as it was four years ago at Iran’s insistence and without objection from the United States — I fear civil war in Iraq will be inevitable. If millions see their ballots fail, bullets may become the only remaining option for those frustrated by democracy’s failure.

RTWT