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

Sunnis Allege Coercion

As turnout levels in Sunni areas remain unclear, some claim they were pressured to vote, others that they were told not to.
By Dawood Salman

Some people in the largely Sunni west of Iraq are complaining that United States troops tried to coerce them into taking part in the January 30 elections.


People in the town of Ramadi, about 100 kilometres west of Baghdad in the Anbar governorate, said they felt that raids conducted by US troops prior to the election were part of an effort to force people to go to the polls.


“They arrested us on January 29 and released us in January 30,” said Fahmi Abid al-Dlemi, a Ramadi resident. “Afterwards, they asked us whether we were going to vote, and we told them we were.”


Haitham al-Harithi, a university student in Ramadi, told a similar story, “After seizing us, they said they'd release us if we agreed to go and cast our ballots.”


US and Iraqi officials worry that a low turnout among the Sunnis – who account for about one in five of the population - could cast doubt on the election’s legitimacy.


Several Sunni parties boycotted the poll on the grounds either that instability in the “Sunni triangle” would prevent a fair election, or that no vote could count as legitimate as long as Coalition troops were stationed in the country.


Such is the level of suspicion about the election that while some are alleging that Sunni voters were pressured to vote against their will, others are claiming there was a concerted effort to stop them going to the polls. Those who favour the latter theory cite reports that Sunni voters in Samawa were intimidated by election workers, as well as the logistical errors that led to a shortage of ballots in ethnically mixed cities such as Mosul and Kirkuk.


Preliminary results show that expectedly high numbers of voters turned out in some Sunni cities such as Baaqubah, northeast of Baghdad. In other places such as Baghdad’s al-Azamiya neighbourhood, most polling stations did not open at all.


Final turnout figures are not expected to be released for several more days.


Few voters turned out in Fallujah, the town west of Baghdad which US troops stormed in November in a bid to crush insurgents. Hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced by the fighting and now reside in makeshift camps just outside the town.


Eisa Abdullah, a camp resident who was among those who did decide to vote, said, “We have been suffering a bad situation since we lost our homes and belongings, but we took part in order to vote for the constitution and to support the democratic process.”


Abu Junaid al-Kubaissi, a displaced Fallujah resident living in Baghdad, could have cast his ballot in the capital, as Iraq’s electoral commission had made provision for such cases. But he says he didn’t bother, and he doesn’t care who wins, either.


“This government makes promises without doing anything, just as they promised to rebuild Fallujah,” he said.


Dawood Salman is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.


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