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Iraqis confronted with same choices of candidates, parties since 2005 polls

May 09,2018 - Last updated at May 09,2018

Set to go to the polls on May 12, Iraqi voters are confronted with the same choices of candidates and parties they have been given since the US launched multi-party polls in 2005. Although the leading figures and parties have been reconfigured and new faces and factions have emerged, Iraqis continue to be dominated by a host of Shiite fundamentalists, bred in the Dawa movement, who rode into Baghdad on the backs of US tanks and have remained in power due to support from the US and its regional rival Iran.

Among the Dawa cadres are incumbent Haidar Al Abadi, his predecessor Nouri Al Maliki, former premier and current Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari, cleric and politician Ammar Al Hakim, Iran-founded Badr Organisation (a leading sectarian militia) chief, Hadi Al Amiri and radical cleric Muqtada Al Sadr. The latter is the only figure among them to espouse Iraqi nationalism.

The secular, nationalist cross-sectarian electoral list composed in 2010 by renegade Baathist and interim premier Ayad Alawi won a narrow majority of seats, but was denied power by the Shiite fundamentalists. Alawi and Sunni Vice President Usama Al Nujaifi has lost credibility by serving under the Shiite fundamentalist regime, which has failed to establish "inclusive" rule involving secularists as well as the Sunni, Christian and other minority communities.

While the US invaded and occupied Iraq promising "democracy", the four Iraqi assemblies elected so far have not been democratic, national or popular. They have not been democratic because the Iran-fostered Shiite fundamentalists constituted the only organised political force in Iraq. When the US conquered the country, Washington's vice roy L. Paul Bremer III dissolved the secular Baath, the ruling party, and outlawed its members, prompting many leading figures to take up arms in a rebellion exploited by Al Qaeda.

The assemblies have not been national because the parties, blocs and alliances standing in elections have been, with few exceptions, sectarian and because behind the scenes, deal maker have denied many Iraqis representatives they can respect and trust to promote the country's interests.

The assemblies have not been popular because Iraqis have lost faith in the post-2003 system of sectarian governance and are alienated by rampant corruption, lack of public services, continuing violence and warfare.

Although fresh faces, independents and small lists have little chance of winning seats in parliament, office holders and their parties are using social media to degrade opponents and ensure their defeat.

More than 24 million Iraqis have registered to choose 320 members of parliament from an overwhelming 7,000 candidates. A major feature in this election is the fragmentation of the Shiite. Running in this election are five main Shiite lists, two main Shiite lists, two Kurdish lists and several new independent parties and lists, totaling 88. It is predicted that no single list or bloc will secure more than 50 seats. If this happens, the leader of the largest bloc could be asked to form a government, although he would have to forge a coalition with five or six other lists in order to reach the 165-seat majority or to cobble together a national unity government made up of parties with a significant number of seats. Neither will be a recipe for stability, reform, and ending mismanagement and graft.

Furthermore, a significant number of voters are likely to be excluded. Mosul, Iraq's second city, iconic Falluja, Ramadi, and Tikrit have been reduced to ruins by US-backed Iraqi and Shiite militia operations against Daesh, and at least 3 million Iraqis, the vast majority resentful Sunnis, remain displaced and unable to return to their homes.

It is ironic that US Defence Secretary James Mattis should accuse Tehran of flooding Iraq with money to ensure pro-Iranian candidates will win since it was the George W. Bush administration that adopted the divide-and-rule sectarian model championed by traditional imperialists and promoted Dawa exiles, who cling to power.

Unlike earlier elections, this consultation could not only consecrate the rule of Shiite fundamentalist parties but also force the Shiite political establishment to accept the either a partnership with or the ascendancy of Shiite militias, including the Badr Organisation, which played decisive roles in the war against Daesh. Several militias have formed a bloc, dubbed Fateh, behind Amiri, who aspires to the premiership, to compete with the large alliances formed by sectarian politicians. Unfortunately, the militias, which are vehemently anti-Sunni, have no intention of building an "inclusive" Iraq any more than the Shiite politicians.

The militia leaders — who command 120,000 men — have put forward a programme to ensure their continuing existence. All fighters should be incorporated into a national security force, officers should retain their ranks, and new officers should not be recruited for this formation. Such a plan would, essentially, involve the creation of a parallel Shiite army. The militias also demand the withdrawal or expulsion of all US forces from Iraq. Consequently, this election could democratically empower the most anti-US and pro-Iranian elements on the Iraqi political scene.

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