Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Election Vandals Leave Their Mark

Young men are expressing their disillusionment with politics by tearing down posters.
Akram has been busy taking out his anger on Baghdad’s candidates.

Akram, a 25-year-old day labourer in Baghdad, proudly defaces at least ten campaign posters daily, using a key to rip through the faces of parliamentary hopefuls. His friends do the same, he says, and believe it is the ultimate form of free expression.

“I do what I want to do,” Akram said. “Is that not democracy?”

Akram is not alone in turning to vandalism as a form of political protest. There have been reports of many other frustrated Iraqis doing the same ahead of the March 7 parliamentary election.

More than thirty people have been arrested for the offence – and around 100 complaints concerning such vandalism have been filed with the elections commission.

Those convicted of defacing posters can be fined and sentenced to up to one year in jail.

Protesters interviewed by IWPR said their vandalism stemmed from a disillusionment and frustration with politics. They insisted they had not been paid by political parties or candidates.

Iraqi candidates “are crooks”, said Saad Jabar, 22, who lives in a slum and tears down election banners in the southeastern city of Ammara.

“I am not alone in this – many of my friends are doing the same thing in other neighbourhoods. We don’t receive anything, nor do we belong to any political party,” he said. “Their money is haram (forbidden) because they try to buy people’s loyalties and consciences by giving blankets and prepaid phone cards.”

In Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, a gang of men in their twenties regularly take to the streets in the middle of the day and brazenly rip down campaign banners, targeting a Sunni-dominated neighbourhood that was once a stronghold of al-Qaeda in Iraq. They are mindful of checkpoints and none have been caught.

One member of the group, a 27-year-old unemployed university graduate, said he did not care if he was caught by the police.

“I’ve graduated but I still don’t have a job,” he said. “I support two families – my mum’s and my brother’s. I don’t belong to any political party. I just want those candidates to know that we don’t support them, and we don’t like them.”

About 150 posters have been torn down in central Baquba and many have been splashed with paint, Hamid Majid, a senior police official in Diyala, said.

Majid said the vandalism was not surprising. Few government officials or members of parliament have visited Baquba over the past few years, even though residents are struggling with inadequate water and electricity supplies.

Since the campaign began earlier this month, candidates have suddenly appeared, Majid said, but aren’t necessarily winning over voters.

“Tearing posters is a sign of democracy … When [Iraqis] don’t like a politician they tear down his poster so that he won’t be elected,” he said. “This is a democratic protest. I don’t think these people are inspired by political parties. They are all adults.”

While many sympathise with the frustrations of the vandals, not all agree with their tactics.

“This is a bad practice and shows that we, as a nation, are not civilised,” Muna Samir, a college student in Ammara, said. “Everyone should respect each other and let [candidates] compete honourably. Ultimately, people will have the final say in whom they choose.”

Candidates have filed complaints about the vandalism to the elections commission, which is investigating reports in several provinces. While many vandals appear to be acting alone and out of anger, some are believed to be driven by party loyalties.

Nine Kurdistan Islamic Union supporters were arrested for tearing down posters of the rival Kurdistani list in Duhok in February, but claim they were unfairly charged by security forces loyal to the list.

Security officials said vandals often operate at night and far from checkpoints, making it difficult to catch suspects in the act.

IWPR-trained journalists Mohammed Saadi in Ammara, Mohammed Fadil in Baghdad, Ali Karim in Baghdad, Ali Mohammed in Baquba and Niwar Mohammed in Duhok contributed to this report.

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