03/03/2010, 00.00
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A divided Iraq goes to the polls amid attacks

by Layla Yousif Rahema
Triple bombing hit Baquba today. Next Sunday, the country will hold its second post-Saddam parliamentary elections. In spite of a few minor successes, problems between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds remain unresolved.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Four days before the second parliamentary election after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq was shaken by another round of terrorist attacks. The small steps towards normalisation that began last year appear to be faltering, as Iraqis get ready to cast their ballot next Sunday. The country remains deeply divided, having failed so far to solve any of its most pressing problems.

Three suicide attacks hit the city of Baquba, north of Baghdad, killing 11 people and injuring another 44, some seriously. Diyala Provincial government buildings, a police station and the city’s main hospital were the intended targets. Police said that the suicide bombers were “members of an anti-American Sunni Islamic group.”

A curfew has been imposed on the city, scene in the past of clashes between Islamic militants and Iraqi troops backed by US forces.

In the meantime, the army and the national police have mounted a vast nationwide security operation to ensure that Sunday’s election go without a hitch, which is crucial for the country’s recovery but also for the region and even the United States, whose troops are expected to leave next year.

Minor successes in 2009 faltering

The danger of inter-ethnic and confessional violence, which was always there below the surface, has increased in the period leading up to the election. Last year saw a number of steps that raised hopes about a possible normalisation. US troops pulled out of Iraqi cities in June, violence deescalated (with attacks targeting public institutions instead of civilians) and provincial elections were held in January. Sectarian parties lost to the State of Law Coalition, a new political alliance led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which presented itself as pan-Iraqi alternative to sectarianism. The vote also saw Sunnis finally accept the political process after they boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections.

Latent divisions resurface

Sadly, none of the country’s main problems has found a solution; the Kurdish question and the status of Kirkuk, Sunni-Shia reconciliation, federalism, and the division of the oil rent remain as divisive now as were before.

At expected, latent divisions have come to the surface ahead of this year’s parliamentary elections (initially scheduled for January).

Negotiations over the election law dragged on as Sunnis and Kurds sought greater representation, causing the vote to be delayed. Then, 500 candidates were banned in accordance with the government’s ‘debaathification’ programme, a step that penalised secular nationalists (for instance, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s mixed group) and Sunnis. This in turn reignited the Sunni-Shia conflict.  

Despite US opposition to the ban, Prime Minister al-Maliki has not yet ordered the readmission of banned candidates.

What the government did do to regain Sunni support was to readmit 20,000 soldiers from Saddam’s era into the services, a step viewed as demagoguery by many, and one that might not save the election from being seen as illegitimate or prevent the country from descending again into civil war.

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See also
Sunni-Shia confrontation pushes Iraq back to the brink of war
Attacks against officials and politicians leave 21 dead and scores of wounded
Baghdad tired of violence after politically motivated double attack
A second Sunni cleric killed in less than 24 hours
Iraq elections: outgoing Prime Minister al-Maliki closer to a third term


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