Discord over electoral law ahead of Iraq January poll


DISAGREEMENT OVER Iraq’s election law and a spike in violence threaten dissent and death ahead of the January parliamentary poll.

Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki favours a law that would allow voters to choose individual candidates on party or bloc lists.

Legislators however want to keep the closed system used in the 2005 election under which voters cast ballots for slates rather than candidates.

At that time many faced attack if identified. Today they fear they will lose their seats.

Mr Maliki has the backing of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shia figure, as well as a majority of Iraqis who, disillusioned with mismanagement and corruption, insist on deciding who should get their votes.

Truck bombs have become the weapon of choice in Iraq and are being used by several competing factions.

Sunni insurgents are targeting Iraqi government forces. Kurds are striking Arabs and Turkomen dwelling in areas the Kurds seek to annex to their autonomous region.

“Christians are attacked by all sides,” Abu George, an Iraqi businessman says.

He owns two buildings in Baghdad. One block, with a view of the Tigris River, is empty, guarded by two watchmen, one a Sunni, the other a Shia. The second, containing shops and furnished flats, is rented.

He does not believe al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, but kidnappers still stalk the streets of Iraqi cities, snatching individuals, demanding ransoms and killing victims even if the price is paid. He expects a rise in violence ahead of the election.

Abu George dismissed the efforts of politicians, including Mr Maliki, to forge coalitions containing Shia, Sunni, secular and Christian elements with the aim of projecting a nationalist image.

“Nationalism is popular, sectarianism is not. Maliki’s bloc has its bishop and his main rival has another bishop. But when it comes time to vote, Shias will vote for Shias and Sunnis will vote for Sunnis. Christians [a small community] are caught in between.”

A Christian health worker was kidnapped last week and his body dumped near the northern city of Kirkuk.

Abu George insists on a new electoral law.

“People will not vote if they keep the old law. Iraqis want change, not the same discredited politicians. Six years after the war, Baghdad has only six hours of electricity a day although billions have been spent on trying to fix it. No electricity means no industry.

“Farmers are leaving the land because there is no water for crops and they get more money serving in the army and police.

“Baghdad isn’t Baghdad. The character of the city is changing. Grand houses are being sold by departing families.

“Developers bulldoze the houses and divide the land. They build small houses of 100sq m for the peasants who are coming to the city. Baghdad is becoming a village.

“Before the [2003 US] war, half the population of Baghdad was Sunni and there were large communities of Christians and Kurds. Today the capital is 85 per cent Shia. We will see this reflected in the election result.”

Abu George does not intend to move back to Baghdad any time soon.

Leila, a former diplomat’s wife, said: “The Iraq we know is finished. From the monarchy until the time of the war, Iraqis had a national identity. We never spoke of Sunni-Shia.

“There was trouble with the Kurds, but it was manageable. It will take 25 years for us to recover, if we ever do.

“Meanwhile,” she says, “educated people who could rebuild the country have left and are emigrating to Australia, Canada and Europe.”