NPR Story
2:15 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Violence Overshadows Iraq Election

Originally published on Tue April 29, 2014 4:43 pm

An attack north of Baghdad killed at least 11 people today, one day before the parliamentary election that will determine the country’s prime minister and president.

There are more than 9,000 candidates for the 382 seats in the Iraqi Parliament but the campaign has been overshadowed by the steady drumbeat of attacks.

More than three dozen people died in a series of bombings yesterday. Still, there is hope that the election will bring some peace to the country three years after U.S. combat troops pulled out.

The BBC’s Rafid Jaboori joins Here & Now’s Robin Young from Erbil in northern Iraq to discuss the election.

Guest

  • Rafid Jaboori, correspondent for the BBC. He tweets @RafidJBBC.
Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW. More than 9,000 candidates are vying for 328 seats in the Iraqi Parliament in tomorrow's election, a campaign that's been overshadowed by the worst violence since the peak of the Iraq War in 2007 and 2008. Today, at least 11 people were killed in a bomb attack north Baghdad. Yesterday, at least 46 people died in a series of attacks.

The BBC's Rafid Jaboori joins us from Erbil up in northern Iraq. We've got him on a complicated iPhone app connection through London. So Rafid, thank you. And your thoughts on these attacks south of you, is this pattern or is this just spasms people expected before the election?

RAFID JABOORI: It is a pattern, but, of course, these attacks are a clear sign of how bad the security situation in Iraq, especially the bigger Arab part. I'm now talking, of course, from the relative safety of the autonomous region of Kurdistan here in the north. And the attacks hit actually in many cities, different cities across the country.

But I have to say that over the past few days I've been traveling and I've been visiting different parts of Iraq, major cities like Baghdad, Basra, and here in Erbil, and many people, most of the people that I spoke with, were actually willing to vote, and they appreciate how hard the situation their country is, but they believe that, you know, it's a duty to vote.

And in real terms, this also reflects how it's important for the various Iraqi communities when it comes to the general election, to the parliamentary elections, to consolidate the role and the size of their communities in the Iraqi government.

YOUNG: Well, just tell us, before move on, what is going on with the attacks? The current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, just to remind ourselves, he represents the Shia, who are the majority in Iraq. The Sunnis are now in the minority, but they were in power under Saddam Hussein. They say they've been discriminated against since they've lost power.

Can we assume that the attacks are groups that are insurgent Sunni groups, maybe backed by al-Qaida, who are trying to undermine the Shia government?

JABOORI: I haven't heard any claim for responsibility for the attacks of yesterday, but the attacks earlier in the week, an organization called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is a breakaway group of al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attacks earlier, a few days ago.

So, and this is, of course, not the first time for this organization, which is, you know, in the claim of responsibility for such attacks. It's an extremist Sunni organization. Most of the Iraqi Sunnis say that they don't support this organization, but they say, as they put in your question, they complain of being discriminated against.

I have to say that many Shiites that I've been talking to over the years, not just now, would look at this as a kind of a grumbling of one privileged minority. So this is, in a sense, this atmosphere of mistrust between communities is affecting the general situation in Iraq.

Of course, you know, when it comes to this occasion, the parliament election, there are still secular parties emphasizing the Iraqi identity and preaching that, you know, people should not be motivated by their religious or sectarian affiliation.

But eventually, and this is one of the facts of the politics here in Iraq, and post-Saddam Hussein's era, most of the people from the different communities will be voting along the sectarian lines.

YOUNG: Wow. Well, and you are there in the Kurdish part of the country. As we know, the Kurds very persecuted under Saddam Hussein, how are they anticipating this election? Take away the Sunni/Shia involvement. What about the Kurds?

JABOORI: Well, for them, you know, it's a chance to assert their role in the politics of Iraq. Of course, what they had since the fall of Saddam Hussein is a very strong representation in the federal government of Iraq. So, for example, the position of the president of the country, although it's ceremonial, but it was occupied by a Kurd.

The positions like the minister of foreign affairs and so on, they would, you know work to consolidate that. But also I have to say that almost every Kurd that I spoke with over the past few days were talking about independence one day. One day, you know, they are still dreaming, they never gave up on their dream of having an independent state, which is, of course, for many Arabs is something that really, you know, would not - they wouldn't - most Arabs would not like to, you know, to hear that or to discuss that.

But this is for the Kurds also, you know, an opportunity to talk about their, you know, their religious identity within Iraq for now and maybe out of Iraq in the future.

YOUNG: Well, the Arab Sunni and Shia population don't want to see Kurdistan and the Kurds be independent, because, for many reasons, but one is that there's -it's an oil rich area. So there's that issue. But, just looking at this, 9,000 candidates. I mean, is it assumed just sheerly because of numbers, that most of the majority Shia will win those seats?

JABOORI: Well, they were actually, you know, many, many candidates in every constituency here in Iraq. So it's not about the Shia majority. For many Iraqis, politics, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, has become a kind of lucrative business.

So many people would dream of having a seat in the parliament, but there's also another reason for that. There were changes in the electoral system this time around, these elections. And small parties think that they can do better and lose less votes when it comes to the final counts. So that's why you have a more-than-usual number of candidates.

YOUNG: Wow. And what's that like, 9,000 candidates? What does that feel like? I know you're up in Kurdistan, but what does that - I mean, there must be campaign posters plastered everywhere.

JABOORI: Campaign posters and flags and commercials everywhere. Many business - people from the business community, people from the media, people from, you know, sport, from sport, are competing in these elections. But, you know, most of the people I speak with understand the difference between, you know, serious candidates and people who are just coming into power, trying, you know, to have a shot in politics, you know, during the election season.

YOUNG: That's the BBC's Rafid Jaboori, speaking to us from Erbil in northern Iraq, ahead of tomorrow's parliamentary election. Rafid, thank you so much.

JABOORI: Thank you.

YOUNG: And, of course, we'll check back in tomorrow to see how the voting in Iraq goes - 9,000 candidates, just over 300 seats. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.