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

Mosul Youth in Boycott Campaign

Protesters say elections should only be held once the occupation is over.
By Mohammed Alban

Dozens of young men in Mosul are distributing leaflets calling on residents to boycott Iraq’s first free elections, scheduled to take place on January 30.

In addition to the leaflets, the activists, most of them in their twenties, are hanging up posters on the walls of schools and along the roadsides of Mosul, telling residents to stay at home on election day.

Ahmad Faruq, a 25-year-old student of Islamic theology, said he is campaigning against the elections because participation in the vote will pave the way for the establishment of more United States military bases in Iraq.

“I will celebrate holding elections but only after the withdrawal of the last US tank,” said Faruq, who was distributing leaflets to people attending Friday prayers at the Omer ibn Abdul-Aziz mosque. “I can’t accept holding elections under the foreign occupation.”

Abu Hatem, an imam or prayer leader at a Mosul mosque, agreed, insisting the elections will be illegitimate because they are being held in an occupied country.

“The security situation is not stabilised, and US occupation forces are continuing to raid houses and arrest people,” he said. “Some people talk about sovereignty, but what sovereignty are they talking about when American tanks are roaming Mosul streets?”

Many residents say even if there was no call to boycott the ballot, they still wouldn’t vote because of the unstable security situation. Mosul, the provincial capital of Ninevah province in northwestern Iraq, is considered to be one of the most dangerous areas in Iraq.

On January 23, US military officials said a soldier was killed in a clash with insurgents. Fourteen US troops were killed in December when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a mess-hall tent at an American base in Mosul.

“How can we ask citizens to run for election and vote if there is not a single policeman in the city?” asked Ahmed Salim, 24. “How can the elections go ahead like that?”

Election officials and candidates are also in danger. In unconfirmed reports, local news channels said that a member of the local electoral commission had disappeared. In recent weeks, there were reports that almost all 700 members of the Mosul branch of the electoral commission had resigned because of threats.

Hardline Islamist group Ansar al-Sunna has distributed leaflets threatening to attack polling stations and kill any food-ration agent who receives or gives out registration papers.

In November, armed men attacked an office that housed voter-registration documentation and set the building on fire.

Abu Ali, 48, a food ration agent in the al-Quds neighbourhood, said a group of armed men came to his house and threatened him, telling him not to collect or distribute voting papers.

“What can I do?” he asked. “I call upon the concerned officials to find another way of distributing election forms.”

Majida Star, Mosul’s education director and a candidate for the Ninewa governorate council, in the local elections scheduled alongside the national one, said she has yet to hit the campaign trail out of fear for her security.

Atran al-Shamari, a political science professor at Mosul University who is also standing for the provincial council, carries a pistol with him wherever he goes. He said he blames insurgents for creating the insecure situation.

Mosul police have begun implementing tighter security measures, but even police officer Aqil al-Mousli acknowledged that many of the residents do not support the government and don’t intend to vote.

Mosul governor Dureid Kashmula has tried to counter the boycott calls by urging citizens to take part in the election.

In the Kurdish areas of Mosul, there are signs of normality with campaign posters covering walls.

But in the Sunni Muslim areas, there was little evidence that a national election was just days away. Most of the city’s residents are Sunni Muslims.

Atif Muhammed, a volunteer election observer, said fear will prevent many people from voting. “The fear has reached a point where an owner of a coffee shop changes the channel of his TV when a campaign advertisement comes on the screen,” he said.

But some residents say they are excited about going to the polls.

Hazim Dawood, a 39-year-old teacher, said he is happy to take part in the elections, as he sees it as an opportunity for Iraqis to determine their own future.

“We have to try hard to support the elections,” he said. “And if the government decides to postpone the election, this will mark a defeat because will prove that it cannot control the country’s affairs.”

This story has not been bylined because of concerns for the security of IWPR reporters.

Mohammed Alban is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.

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