Iraq closed its airspace and raised its air force on Sunday as voters headed to the polls to elect a parliament that, despite widespread skepticism, some Iraqis hope to reform after decades of conflict and mismanagement.
The vote was originally scheduled for next year, but it was postponed in response to popular uprisings in the capital Baghdad and southern provinces at the end of 2019. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest rampant corruption, poor service and rising unemployment. They were met fatally by security forces using live ammunition and tear gas. In just a few months, more than 600 people were killed and thousands were injured.
Although the authorities gave in and called early elections, the death toll and harsh crackdown on protests prompted many young activists and demonstrators who took part in the protests to later call for a boycott of polling stations.
A series of kidnappings and targeted killings that have killed more than 35 people further alienated many from participation. Apathy is widespread amid deep skepticism that independent candidates have a chance to oppose established parties and politicians, many of whom are supported by armed militias.
“I voted because I need to change. I don’t want the same people and the same parties to come back, ”said Amir Fadel, a 22-year-old car dealer, after a vote in Baghdad’s Karrad district.
A total of 3,449 candidates are vying for 329 seats in the parliamentary elections, which will be the sixth since the fall of Saddam Hussein following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and its sectarian-based political power-sharing system.
More than 250,000 security personnel across the country were tasked with protecting the vote. Soldiers, police and counterterrorism forces fanned out and camped outside polling stations, some of which were surrounded by barbed wire. Voters were searched and searched.
Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi have called on Iraqis to vote en masse.
“Come out and vote and change your reality for Iraq and your future,” al-Kadhimi said, repeating “go away” three times after voting at a school in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to foreign embassies and government offices.
In the 2018 elections, only 44% of eligible voters voted, a record low, and the results were widely contested. There are fears that this time the turnout will be about the same or even less.
By noon, turnout was still relatively low and the streets were mostly deserted. At a teahouse in Karrada, one of the few open, candidate Rim Abdulhadi walked in to ask if the people had voted.
“I will give my vote to singer Umm Kaltum, she is the only one who deserves it,” the tea seller replied, referring to the late Egyptian singer, beloved by many in the Arab world. He said he would not participate in the elections and did not believe in the political process.
After a few words, Abdulhadi gave the man, who wished to remain anonymous, a card with her name and number in case he decided to change his mind. He put it in his pocket.
“Thank you, I will keep it as a keepsake,” he said.
At that moment, a low-flying, high-speed military aircraft flew overhead with a squeal. “Listen to this. This sound is terrible. It reminds me of a war, not an election,” he added.
In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, an influential Iraqi cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, cast his vote, surrounded by local journalists. Then he drove off in a white sedan without saying anything. Al-Sadr, a populist with a huge following among the Shiites of the working class of Iraq, won the 2018 elections with the majority of seats.
Iraqi majority Shia Muslim groups dominate the elections, with a tense race expected between al-Sadr’s list and the Fatah Alliance led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri, who came second in previous elections.
The Fatah Alliance is made up of parties affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group composed primarily of pro-Iranian Shiite militias who rose to prominence during the war against the Sunni extremist Islamic State group. It includes some of the toughest pro-Iranian groups, such as the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia. Al-Sadr, the leader of the nationalists in the black turban, is also close to Iran, but publicly rejects its political influence.
In the autonomous northern Kurdistan of Iraq, the race was dominated by two main Kurdish parties known as the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which dominates the Kurdish government, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
This election is the first since Saddam’s fall to pass without a curfew, reflecting the country’s vastly improved security situation since the defeat of IS in 2017. Previous voices have been overshadowed by the fighting and deadly bomb attacks that have hit the country. for decades.
As a security measure, Iraq closed its airspace and land border crossings and redeployed its air force from Saturday evening until early Monday morning.
First, Sunday’s elections are being held under a new electoral law that divides Iraq into smaller constituencies – another demand from activists who participated in the 2019 protests – and allows more independent candidates to be nominated.
A UN Security Council resolution passed earlier this year authorized an expanded election observation team. Up to 600 international observers will attend, including 150 from the United Nations. More than 24 million of Iraq’s approximately 38 million people have voting rights.
Iraq is also introducing biometric cards for voters for the first time. Despite all these measures, allegations of vote-buying, intimidation and manipulation continue.
The head of the Iraqi electoral commission said that the initial results of the elections will be announced within 24 hours.