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Sunnis Set to Boycott Elections

The attack on Fallujah has deepened Sunni suspicions of the election process.
By Zaineb Naji

Sunni Arabs, particularly residents of the community’s restive cities, are voicing increasing objections to upcoming elections, set to take place just over two months away.


The United States-backed interim Iraqi government is struggling to establish security in the country and retake cities held by Sunni rebels ahead of the January 30 ballot.


Coalition forces, supported by Iraqi troops, have already launched major offensives on the majority-Sunni cities of Fallujah and Ramadi to the west of Baghdad, and are expected to soon turn their attention to the northern city of Mosul.


The most influential religious authority for Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, the Association of Muslim Scholars, has called for a boycott of the elections, claiming they cannot be held legitimately while the country is under occupation and cities are being bombarded.


The main Sunni political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has also threatened to boycott the ballot after its leader pulled the party out of the interim government in protest over its handling of the Fallujah crisis.


The party says it will only take part in the poll if it is postponed for six months.


As a consequence, it seems that a majority of Sunni Arabs will take no part in a vote held in January.


“We support the call of the Muslim Scholars,” said Mostafa al-Badran, a businessman from the city of al-Qaim, near the Syrian border. “If the government continues to besiege Sunni towns like Fallujah and attack them with planes and artillery, we will boycott the elections.”


“Elections will be impossible if the price of securing them is the attack on Fallujah,” agreed engineer Mohammed al-Badran, also from al-Qaim.


For many Sunnis, the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime robbed them of positions of power and authority.


Although few will say as much, under Saddam - a Sunni Arab himself - the community held sway over other ethnic groups in the country despite being a minority itself.


Many Sunnis now fear that the forthcoming national and municipal elections will elevate Shias and Kurds to positions of authority, leaving them powerless.


Ahmed al-Janabi, who runs a poultry farm in Ramadi, spoke for many in the community when he said, “We reject such treatment.”


Another Sunni concern is that any elections held while Coalition forces are in the country would be rigged to guarantee the desired outcome.


Despite the creation of an independent electoral committee, whose work will be overseen by the United Nations, many Sunnis remain convinced the Americans are running the show.


“These elections will be a fake,” claimed Ali Hamid, a taxi driver from Fallujah. “They are being held under the supervision of the Americans who will only allow their agents to rule Iraq.”


“We won’t accept the election results because it’s an American set up, backed by the Shias and Kurds,” said Ramadi resident Mahmood Abdullah al-Aani. “We will watch what happens and take the appropriate action to preserve our rights.”


Some members of the community are not necessarily opposed to a ballot, but question its legal basis.


“We don’t reject elections,” said Firas Baker, who owns an ironsmith’s business in Ramadi. “This election is based on the Temporary Administrative Law presented by the governing council and we don’t recognise that law.”


Others say they don’t intend to vote because they do not know which candidates are Sunnis, and cannot understand the voting-list system.


Mayada Mohamed, a professor of English in Ramadi, said she had received the names of the candidates with her November food ration card. “I don’t know any of the candidates, so I won’t vote,” she said.


Meanwhile, radical elements in the Sunni camp have threatened to attack anyone who stands for, votes in or supports the January elections.


“All candidates in these elections are foreign agents, as are the people who are running this,” stated the imam of a Sunni mosque in Baghdad, who would only give his name as Abu Motiz. “We will boycott them and we will strike with an iron fist against anyone who supports them.”


In the latest development, Jaish Ansar al-Sunna (Army of Sunni Supporters), a group opposed to the US occupation that has claimed responsibility for several attacks and kidnappings, has threatened to target voting centres and candidates.


In a statement published on the internet on November 18, the group said it will regard all candidates as “infidels”, and treat them and the polling stations as legitimate targets.


A spokesman for the Electoral High Commission, Farid Ayar, said in a statement to IWPR that an unknown armed group had attacked a store holding voter registration forms and burnt a number of them, as part of an attempt to stop the elections being held on time.


While opposition to elections in Sunni areas is clearly strong and widespread, there are still some members of the community willing to get actively involved in the voting process.


For instance, Sunnis representing secular parties such as the National Democratic Party and the Iraqi National Accord will be standing for election.


Salih al-Janabi is standing in the town of Latifiyah, an anti-US hotspot south of Baghdad. He has repeatedly called on the government to provide protection for candidates and to distribute better public information so that people know what is expected of them.


“I asked the high commission to explain what the elections are actually about to the people of this region,” he said. “We need to make them understand that candidates are not spies for anyone.”


Zaineb Naji is an IWPR trainee.


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