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

High Hopes in Shia South

Voters say they want a new government to boost public services and heal divisions.
By Meethaq Fadhil

As millions of ballot papers are carefully counted in Baghdad, people in Iraq’s Shia south are already preparing their wish lists for a new government.


The January 30 poll is being seen as a turning point for Iraq’s Shia, who make up 60 per cent of the country’s population. The community was brutally oppressed under former president Saddam Hussein, who favored the minority Sunnis, they are now expected to play a leading role in the transitional parliament, the National Assembly.


As well as drafting a new constitution, the assembly will pick an Iraqi president and two deputies, and approve the appointment of a prime minister and cabinet.


Building consensus will be one of the most difficult challenges facing the transitional parliament and the government it forms.


After the elections, Iraq’s interim president Ghazi al-Yawar and prime minister Ayad Allawi stressed that the new institutions must find a way to include the Sunni parties that boycotted the elections in the new political process.


Muhammed Khairi, in the city of Nassriyah, said he hopes the new government will be one of consensus that can “heal the wounds” of the country. Continuing the medical analogy, he described the election as the first stage in Iraq’s “treatment”.


Eman Tahir, a retired civil servant in Nassriyah, said she expected a new government to address the country’s social problems. In particular, wants to see it protecting the rights of children, “They are wronged in terms of health, education and social services."


Asked whether the candidates she voted for would win the election, she said, "I hope that my list will win, but that doesn't matter – what matters to me is that the new government fulfills our simple wishes.”


Some voters expressed hope that Iraq’s new government would improve the economy by reaching out to the international business community.


"I voted for Ghazi al-Yawar's list because of his broad ties with the Gulf states, and I expect him to turn Iraq into a modern state like the United Arab Emirates," said supermarket owner Abdul-Majid Amir.


In the southwestern city of Kut, life began to return to normal following the three-day security curfew during the election.


Um Muhammed, a woman shopping on the streets of the city, said she hoped that a new Iraqi administration would be able to make Iraqis feel secure, restore basic services and improve overall living conditions.


"I feel Iraq has been born anew, and the coming days will bring many of the achievements that we’ve been dreaming of," she said.


While voters have been expressing their optimism after the ballot, they feel it is now up to the politicians to deliver on their election promises before the next two polls. In October, Iraqis are scheduled to take part in a referendum on the draft constitution, and will vote for a new National Assembly two months later.


Electrical engineer Thair Saed made the point that elected politicians now have until the December general election to prove themselves. “The winners in the next elections will be those who have recognised that Iraqis are going to vote for them on the basis of what they achieve now," he said. "This is an opportunity for them as well as for us."


Meethaq Fadhil and Ziyad al-Ujaily are IWPR trainee journalists in Iraq.