Campaign ends, Iraq set for polls

Suicide bombings target voters casting early ballot

The largest numbers of voters are expected in neighbouring Syria and Jordan which host 2.25 million Iraqis who fled their country after the 2003 US occupation. Iraq’s internally displaced will vote on Sunday with the rest of the country. They and exiles cast ballots for candidates in their home constituencies. Since many of those living outside are either Sunnis or Christians their votes should strengthen the chances of secular politicians fighting the sectarian Shias.

The campaign has been punctuated by suicide bombings in Iraq’s 15 Arab-majority provinces and characterised by vote-buying and intimidation throughout the country. Early on Thursday, 17 Iraqi soldiers and civilians were killed in Baghdad in coordinated attacks on voters casting early ballots, including troops, policemen, hospital workers, and prisoners serving less than five years. Eighteen million Iraqis are eligible to vote, three million of them youngsters who are participating for the first time.  Since they have matured during a period of privation and violence, they say they are voting for electricity, services, and jobs.

No election fever
Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital, is not gripped by election fever as is smaller Suleimaniya to the east. In Irbil posters adorn buildings and overpasses but there are few party flags displayed in the streets and no convoys of hooting car decorated with portraits of candidates and flags snarling up the traffic.

Businessman Baram points out that the since the provinces of Irbil and Dohuk are ruled by the Kurdish Democratic Party, “only one party is running here.” Even its electoral ally, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), based in Suleimaniya, has put out few posters of its candidates. He observes, however, that voter turnout should be reasonably high. “If people don’t vote they lose their ration cards — just like during the time of Saddam Hussein.”

In Suleimaniya electioneering has been vigorous because the PUK, which has reigned in this province since the mid-1970s, is being challenged by an offshoot called Goran, or ‘Change’. This movement, running on n anti-corruption platform, could secure one-third of the Kurdish seats in the national assembly.

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