Many challenges are facing the upcoming election in Iraq. Yet, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi insists on holding it on time. The issue has been controversial as Sunni parties seek to postpone the election in order to have better representation in a political landscape dominated by Shia parties as well as power ambitions of the Iranian Militias in Iraq and Syria (IMIS).
According to observers, one of the challenges facing the parliamentary election that casts doubt over its fairness and integrity is the displacement crisis, particularly Sunni displaced persons, who have not returned yet to their districts.
The government has to prepare a plan that facilitates displaced persons’ return to their districts so that they can make up their minds regarding who will represent them in the upcoming election, they added.
In November, Muhanad Seloom, director of the Iraqi Centre for Strategic Studies, noted: "Sunni candidates running for parliamentary elections cannot campaign, without fearing for their lives, in their home provinces because of IMIS presence in these newly liberated cities."
Abadi’s insistence on holding the parliamentary election as scheduled on May 15th, 2018 is met with Sunni political pressure. It is reported that over two million Iraqis are still displaced. That is why Sunni politicians consider displaced persons’ return a main condition for the election to be held on time.
Iraqi MPs revealed that a huge number of displaced persons from Nineveh, Diyala and Salahuddin and northern Babel had not returned to their districts yet, adding that there are logistical problems that hinder holding the elections.
Boycott of Sunni parties
Nineveh MP Ahmed al-Jarba said Sunni political parties threaten they would boycott the elections if the internally displaced persons (IDPs) did not return to their districts by the end of this month.
Other politicians have voiced concern about holding the elections amid lax security and lack of stability. Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri and Vice-President Osama al-Nujaifi have called for postponing the election at least one year so that IDPs can return to their districts.
According to Anbar MP Ahmed al-Masari, conducting the elections as scheduled will neither give Sunni governorates the chance to be represented fairly in the parliamentary nor the provincial councils’ elections.
The destruction of infrastructures in Nineveh Governorate hinders the return of its residents. However, a huge number of Diyala, Salahuddin and Babel displaced are not allowed to return due to security measures taken by Iran-backed IMIS’ factions, which control these governorates.
Under a law passed in November 2016 but not implemented, IMIS was to become an official security body affiliated with the Iraqi armed forces. If this law was enacted, IMIS members can run for office and participate in politics.
In Iraq, political parties and entities wishing to run for election must abolish their armed wings. The new law would allow the armed factions under IMIS umbrella to be incorporated into one officially recognized body.
As a result, the affiliated parties would become purely political entities without actually dissolving the armed groups. This can be a nightmare that adds to Iraq's woes, observers said. They added that being part of the political scene means far-reaching powers that can push the country into the abyss of sectarianism and ethnic cleansing.
Last month, Iraqi writer Ghalib al-Shahbander said in a televised interview that Ahmed al-Assadi, spokesperson of IMIS had announced his resignation from his position so that he can stand as an IMIS candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election.
Al-Shahbander also noted that Iran-backed IMIS are playing a political game in order to have military and parliamentary representations in the upcoming election.
Earlier, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced that IMIS will not take part in the parliamentary elections, which many observers believe it is not a real pledge.
Calls for the postponement of elections are met with international rejection. US ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman said that the Iraqi elections have to be held on time.
Pretexts and excuses, used by some parties to delay the elections, can lead to further postponement in the future, Silliman noted.
The US, the EU and the UN are cooperating to facilitate the return of IDPs to their districts. If the process took a long time, we would ensure that every displaced person will be able to cast his vote in his district, he added.
Dominating political landscape
This comes as political sources said that setting the return of IDPs to their districts as a precondition for conducting the elections does not pose a problem for Abadi.
Delaying the election will enable the prime minister to control the political landscape in Iraq after the legislative session of the parliament ends, they noted.
They added that in case that the elections have been postponed, part of the legislative powers of the parliament will be transferred to the government.
Resolving the issue of displacement will open new political horizons in Iraq as IDPs will be able to vote in their governorates, analysts told The Baghdad Post.
This will foil Iran-allied militias’ scheme to demographically change Sunni governorates, they noted.
They added that the upcoming elections are the main test for Abadi as it will uncover whether he really runs Iraq or the country has turned into a Persian feudal land.