Iraq’s elections leave millions voiceless

The securitisation of a major demographic and its mistreatment show how little the central authorities care about the Sunni vote.
Sunday 20/05/2018
People shop in the main market of  the predominately Sunni neighbourhood of Azamiya in north Baghdad. (AP)
Marginalised voices. People shop in the main market of the predominately Sunni neighbourhood of Azamiya in north Baghdad. (AP)

Some people have expressed shock that hardline Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr managed to lead his Sadrist alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party to secure more seats than any other bloc, causing a political upset in the elections. However, those watching the results need to understand one thing above all: They are not a panacea to Iraq’s long-term problems and will not correct the war-ravaged country’s meandering path through violence, sectarianism and poverty to chart a new course to inclusive democracy, peace and stability.

Sectarian-inspired exclusionary politics has marginalised the voices of potentially millions of Iraqis, particularly the country’s Sunni Arabs. Today, Iraq has a population of some 37 million people, comprised primarily of Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs and predominantly Sunni Kurds, with Turkmen, Yazidi, Shabak and other minorities. One might expect that such pluralism within a population of almost 40 million strong would assist in the exercise of democracy, but that is far from the case.

While Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was eager to call for elections after declaring victory over the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organisation, he failed to lay down a clear policy for dealing with the millions of Iraqis currently living as refugees in their own country.

According to United Nations figures, more than 3 million Iraqis are internally displaced and almost 9 million need humanitarian aid. These catastrophic figures are a direct result of the war against ISIS and the methods the terrorist organisation used, in addition to the overbearing brutality shown by the Iraqi government and allied pro-Iran Shia militias in their fight against ISIS.

In other words, almost an entire third of the Iraqi population is extremely vulnerable and was therefore at risk of being excluded, almost by default, from the democratic process. In any other country claiming to be a democracy, this would not only be a cause for concern, but cause to declare a state of emergency. That would be done in order to rectify the appalling conditions faced by those displaced and adversely affected by a war caused by the sectarianism of the status-quo regime. In this way, the government could have ensured the participation of all its citizens, not just those they know will vote their way.

Making matters worse, the vast majority of those affected by the war against ISIS who were unable to effectively participate in determining their country’s future are from the Sunni Arab demographic. Already a heavily marginalised community that has suffered a decade and a half of the Shia-led and Iran-linked government’s persecution, their lack of participation means that the issues that gave rise to the menace of ISIS have not only not been dealt with, but they have been exacerbated.

Iraqi politicians allied with the ruling party have also gone on the record saying that Sunni Arab families in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps are actually ISIS terrorists. This securitisation of a major demographic and its mistreatment show how little the central authorities care about the Sunni vote. They only needed to assure that the Shia Arab heartland that went largely unaffected throughout the war turned out to vote in large numbers, thereby ensuring landslide victories for Shia Islamist parties, many of which  owe their allegiances to Iran rather than to their own country.

Sadr’s victory was completely unexpected by most parties contesting the elections. However, the sectarian and Iran-backed Conquest list fielding candidates from the Popular Mobilisation Forces came in second, meaning that its members will now influence politics in a country where millions were denied a voice. If that is not a recipe for future bloodshed, I don’t know what is.

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