Iraq Elections Revive Sunnis Fears

Fecha de publicación: 
29 Abr 2014

As Iraq prepares for the first nationwide election since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011, the fears of Sunni Iraqis have doubled amid soaring sectarian tension and marginalization by Nouri Al-Maliki Shiite government.

“I will vote for a change,” Abu Noor, 45-year-old Iraqi Sunni, was quoted by Agence France Presse (AFP) on Tuesday, April 29.

If Maliki won a third term, “we will leave,” he said, adding, “We cannot wait for these people to stay for another four or five years.”

Abu Noor views are widely shared by most of Iraqi Sunnis who feel victimized and discriminated against by the Shiite government.

Six months ago, the 45-year-old father was arbitrary arrested and tortured by Iraqi soldiers who also detained his son and nephew after raiding the family's home in Baghdad's Adhamiyah neighborhood.

“I feel sick when I talk about this... I only go to work and I come back,” said Abu Noor, who was too scared to give his real name.

Please of his wife, Umm Noor, to soldiers went in vain as soldiers beat and took away three members of the family.

However, the detainees were freed few hours later, without mentioning the reasons of the detention.

For these soldiers, “all Sunnis are infidels” and “Saddam's Baathists,” Abu Noor said, referring to the party of now-executed former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Targeted and abused by police soldiers, Abu Noor said that: “They are not Iraqis and they do not represent the Iraqi army.”

“All Iraqis are harmed by those people -- Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds,” his wife, Umm Noor complained.

Iraqi security forces’ repeated crackdown on the Sunni community has sparked global condemnations.

Last January, the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS) vigorously condemned assaults on peaceful protesters in Iraq's western Anbar province, holding the Iraqi government responsible for shedding the blood of civilians.

In November 2013, the UN special envoy to Baghdad, Nickolay Mladenov, said that the security forces required “massive amounts of retraining” in human rights.

Analysts are expecting a low Sunni turnout on Wednesday's vote because “in most of the Sunni areas, specifically in Anbar, the election will take place under very difficult conditions,” explained Maria Fantappie, an analyst at Iraq’s International Crisis Group (ICG).

Jihadists Rise

For many analysts, the escalating tensions between Iraq Sunnis and Shiites have been feeding jihadists in the restive republic.

The Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has recently seized Anbar's Fallujah as well as other parts.

“Fallujah residents held no brief for ISIL, but their hatred of the Iraqi army -- seen as the instrument of a Shiite, sectarian regime, directed from Tehran, that discriminates against Sunnis in general and Anbar in particular -- ran even deeper,” the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report published on Monday.

Described as Iraq's protracted period of bloodshed in years, ICG experts have asserted that Fullujah conflict is being exploited by Al-Maliki in his campaign for the upcoming election.

“To save his prospects, he took a page out of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's playbook by exaggerating -- and thereby exacerbating - the threat Fallujah poses to national stability,” the Crisis Group stated.

Since the US-led invasion of March 2003, Iraq has plunged into an abyss.

Violence and sectarian tensions have divided its religious and ethnic communities, and left tens of thousands of civilians dead.

Running for a third term in parliamentary elections on Wednesday, Maliki's Shiite-led government has been gripped in political stagnation since its formation in May 2006.

Boycott Calls

Amid expectations of a low Sunni turnout on Wednesday's vote, Anbar’s tribal revolutionary council urged on Tuesday, April 29, supporters to boycott the elections.

Maliki “sent his troops to Anbar province to prevent Sunnis from participating in the vote,” Sheikh Abdel-Qader al-Nayel, a military spokesman for Anbar’s tribal revolutionary council, stold Bloomberg.

“He sent 12 army divisions to Anbar to fight its people. We fought Iran for eight years with only eight divisions.”

Sectarian tension has been high in Iraq in recent months over Sunni accusations of the al-Maliki, 63, Shiite government of marginalizing their community.

At least 3,000 Iraqis have been killed since the beginning of 2014, according to the unofficial Iraq Body Count website.

Many Sunnis feel they have been shunted aside in the power-sharing agreement that Washington touts as a young democracy.

“Hundreds of thousands of Anbar people fled the province since January” because of Maliki’s “aggressive” military action there, al-Nayel said.

“How do you expect them to vote? That’s what Maliki wanted in the first place.”

Anbar’s tribal revolutionary council's calls to boycott were shared by Sheikh Rafei Mishen al-Jumaily, the head of the Jumelat tribe, Anbar's Sunni largest tribe.

“We call upon Sunnis to boycott the election and to avoid giving this government legitimacy,” he said in a video message from the town of Garma in Anbar province.

A series of deadly attacks has preceded Wednesday's vote, killing and injuring dozens throughout Iraq on Monday while army and police personnel were casting early votes.

About 65% of Iraqis are Shiites Muslims, while between 32-37% are Sunnis, and less than 1% are Christians, according to CIA Factbook.

Iraq is home to diverse ethnic groups; Arabs make about 80% of the population, between 15-20% are Kurds, while 5 % are Turkomans and Assyrians.