Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 February - 3 March 2010
Issue No. 987
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Poor prognosis for Iraq's elections

With elections imminent in Iraq, the mood among the Iraqi community in Syria is a mixture of dismay and disappointment, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Although elections in Iraq will be held soon, so far there has been no real campaigning among Iraqis living in Syria and certainly nothing when compared to the electioneering currently taking place in Iraq itself. The general sense among Iraqi refugees living in Syria is that the political manifestos and candidates in this election are not trustworthy.

The overall electoral atmosphere among the refugees is different from that back home in Iraq itself. Many had expected changes in the electoral process, but their hopes have been dashed. Now, the refugees believe that the forthcoming Iraqi elections may well turn out to be a farce.

Iraqi refugees in Syria have been shocked by the rhetoric accompanying the election law, passed some weeks ago, which allocates seats for refugees living outside Iraq. The passage of this law came hot on the heels of the Iraqi government officially rejecting UN statistics on the number of Iraqi refugees living outside the country, unilaterally estimating the number of refugees in Syria at a meagre 200,000.

Baghdad's declaration came in response to deputy Syrian foreign minister Faisal Maqdad claiming that the number of Iraqi refugees in his country was a staggering 1.2 million. Maqdad called on the Iraqi government to take these refugees into consideration for humanitarian and political reasons and allocate seats in parliament to them in proportion to their numbers.

Many Iraqis living in Syria have accused Baghdad of deliberately underestimating their numbers in an attempt to ignore them for electoral reasons. Their views could thus be dismissed if need be, and they would not be able to become a viable electoral bloc that could back certain candidates.

According to Fadel Al-Rabei, an Iraqi political analyst living in Syria, money "has began to infiltrate the ranks of the Iraqi refugees".

"There are reports that certain parties have paid large sums of money, and aim to buy more Iraqi votes at $300 per ballot," Al-Rabei told Al-Ahram Weekly.

"This is an extension of the corruption and vote rigging that is sweeping Iraqi politics, and it demonstrates the dismal state of morals in the country. Corrupt politicians have now managed to spread their fraudulent ways beyond the borders of Iraq."

Al-Rabei believes that the upcoming elections in Iraq "will not usher in anything new or revive political discourse. Instead, they will lead to more of the same under a new guise."

He also warned against the advent of an Islamic state in Iraq, adding that "Iraq could witness an intense wave of violence days before the elections are held in order to create a state of chaos."

Many Iraqis living in Syria agree with him, with Sheikh Essam Al-Bouhlala, head of the National Alliance of Iraqi Clans, strongly criticising the upcoming elections.

Al-Bouhlala, who lives in Syria, has accused the Iraqi government of "dividing its loyalties between the US and Iran." Iraq "is headed towards partition if current political and security conditions continue," Al-Bouhlala said, blaming Iran for its role in any potential partition.

According to Haidar Abdel-Alawi, director of the Iraqi Election Commission in Syria, Syria has agreed to open 32 polling stations in cities across the country that will be monitored by observers from Germany, Romania, South Africa and Syria itself.

In the meantime, it has been noteworthy that there has been an overall shift in sentiment among Iraqi refugees in Syria, with the majority now preferring secular or liberal figures as a result of their frustrations at the country's religious political leadership.

This preference is the result of the "sweeping corruption, political bickering and animosities at the expense of security and stability" in the country, one Iraqi human rights activist who wished to remain anonymous told the Weekly.

However, this shift in attitude alone will "not be enough to secure political office for candidates in the elections," the activist said.

This is so because "political money and the regional powers are more powerful than the sentiments of the Iraqis themselves."

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