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Shia Coalition Accused of Invoking Religion

Iraqi candidates and coalitions are prohibited from using religious references in their campaigns.
By Ali Abu Iraq
A prominent Shia coalition has been accused of violating campaign rules by using religious images and statements from Iraq’s top Shia cleric in an effort to win over voters, a claim the list denies.



In a March 1 press conference in Basra, Hazim al-Rubaie, Basra chief for the Independent High Electoral Commission, IHEC, reported that the commission had seized a pamphlet that “clearly violated campaign rules [by] using religious symbols”.



The document, which was also distributed in the Shia-majority city of Diwaniyah in south-central Iraq, included a photo of the top Shia cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the text of a recent statement by Sistani encouraging voters to go to the polls and a photo of a holy Shia shrine in Najaf.



The name of a top Shia coalition Iraqi National Alliance, INA, was printed on the pamphlet, Rubaie said. Governor Shiltagh Abboud, who is allied with the Shia-led State of Law list, an INA rival, also attended the press conference.



Iraqi candidates and coalitions are prohibited from using religion in their campaigns. Rubaie said he reported the alleged violation to the IHEC in Baghdad.



Sistani has refused to endorse any candidate for the March 7 parliamentary election, advising Iraqis to instead vote for their preferred list. Sistani’s views and that of the Marjaiya, a group of top Shia clerics which Sistani oversees, hold substantial sway over religious Shia voters.



Aqeel Namiq, a 24-year-old grocer in Diwaniyah, said men plastering INA posters handed him a copy of the pamphlet.



An INA candidate said the coalition had not printed and distributed the document.



“We are very close to the Marjaiya. This is a fact and everyone knows it,” Abdul Hussein Haneen, an INA candidate in Diwaniyah, said. “[But] we are not responsible for [the pamphlet] that is being published and distributed by others.”



Ali Abu Iraq is an IWPR-trained journalist in Basra. Imad al-Khuzaei is a reporter in Diwaniyah.