Amid zero security and reports of torture and bribery, the Iraqi people watch "new Iraq's" politicians fall over themselves to insult each other, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti
The news of torture at prisons run by the Ministry of Interior came as a shock to many Iraqis as they prepared to elect a new parliament. The Iraqis are choosing among candidates who have displayed a great appetite for smear campaigns. Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister, has some harsh things to say about Ibrahim Al-Jaafari's government and its failure to maintain security. Allawi has his own critics, busy tearing up his elections posters and those of anyone who dares criticise Iran.
Ahmed Chalabi is levelling accusations on Allawi's transitional government, and he's not the only one. Current government spokesman Laith Kebba speaks of "the theft" perpetrated by the occupation forces and the officials of Allawi's transitional government, as well as the two main Kurdish leaders.
Iyad Al-Hashemi, secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Elections Commission has employed 600 officials in the Anbar province, and that none of those officials is a resident of Anbar. Recently, Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution and leader of the National Alliance, a Shia coalition, told reporters that the Sunnis are trying "restore the Ummayad rule". The Ummayads are blamed for the murder of Hussein, the Shia's third imam, in the seventh century.
One US soldier has claimed that Kurds rigged the recent elections, an opinion which is shared by Turkomans and Sunnis in Kirkuk and Mosul. The Elections Commission is still of the opinion that no major fraud has been reported in previous elections. "This time the commission will have to prove its independence and probity," says Jenan Ali, professor at the Mustansariya University. Ali claims that the Turkish Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) is fielding candidates in the elections. "Everyone knows that the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party is a front for the PKK, which is a terrorist organisation. The Solution Party often flies PKK flags. How did the candidates of the Solution Party obtain documents showing them to be Iraqis? How did this happen at a time when the commission is asking all candidates to provide all sorts of IDs, including food-rationing cards?"
The UN and the Elections Committee have endorsed food-rationing cards as a means of identification. The reason is that food-rationing records have been more up-to-date than any other census in the country. The Ministry of Trade is keeping track of the food-rationing papers of families that left Kirkuk and other areas. But there are rumours that large numbers have obtained such cards through illicit means.
The main players in the country seem oblivious to the nation's suffering. General Assembly members met at one point to discuss the retirement law, and recommended that each of them gets $4,000 a month in pension for life -- and that's for a service of one year in office.
"The big guys want to win at any cost... Some of them insult the nation's intelligence and some think that we cannot remember their past. One candidate had been imprisoned once for forging a PhD, but was released in the October 2002 general amnesty," one independent candidate said on condition of anonymity.
Everyone is worried about security, but not everyone is in agreement on how to improve things. The Sunnis refer to the "occupation forces", whereas Shias and Kurds speak of "multinational forces" that operate in the country. Some speak of a federal Iraq; others call for a democratic state for all Iraqis. The Kurdistan Front wants to improve conditions in the Kurdish areas. The Turkoman Front wants a unified Iraq that is part of the Arab world. Allawi promises jobs and security. Chalabi states that, "we have liberated Iraq and will build it together." But most lists promise voters things such as better housing and services and less corruption.
Nabil Omar has toured various Iraqi provinces as part of a research project he is conducting on democracy. He says that Baghdad has seen more tearing down of posters than other parts of the country. In Shia areas, Omar said, the followers of Moqtada Al-Sadr, the young Shia leader, have considerable support, but so do their opponents. In Karbala, the Unified Alliance list is doing well. Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the country's top Shia authority, is not supporting any particular lists, according to his spokesman.
Some of the minor election lists have adopted catchy slogans -- such as development, reconstruction, and reform -- to boost their chances. Others have preferred to play the patriotic card. Former defence minister Hazim Al-Shaalan is running at the head of the "Parliament of Patriotic Forces" list.
Some Iraqi papers were said to have received US financial aid to report favourably on US activities in the country. The "bribe" is indicative of the nature of these elections, commentators say. US President George Bush is said to have promised $1 billion in aid to several Iraqi towns in an effort to stamp out the "insurgence".