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Iraqi politicians killed in run-up to parliamentary polls

Published time: March 29, 2013 12:54
People walk past a campaign poster featuring Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and announcing the provincial elections on March 2, 2013 near Tahrir Square in Baghdad (AFP Photo / Sabah Arar)

People walk past a campaign poster featuring Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and announcing the provincial elections on March 2, 2013 near Tahrir Square in Baghdad (AFP Photo / Sabah Arar)

As Iraq prepares to host its first parliamentary elections in 3 years, deadly attacks on candidates are on the rise. Eleven politicians have already fallen prey to what has been branded an attempt to hijack the democratic process.

The latest bomb attack on Tuesday mangled an armor-plated car in the troubled town of Tuz Khurmatu, killing two candidates and their bodyguard. The death of council chief Abdulqadar Naimi and councilor Rashid Khorshid brought the total number of politicians killed to 11 in the run-up to Iraq’s April 20 parliamentary elections, AP reported.

Kirkuk provincial governor Najim al-Din Omar Karim attributed the latest attacks to a “terrorist operation” aimed at disrupting the country’s democratic elections.

“They were targeting the democratic process, as we are close to elections,” he told AP. He stressed that political and ethnic rifts in Iraqi society were to blame, stating that “as long as the problems continue, the terrorist groups will reflect these differences by carrying out criminal activity.”

In response to the rising unrest, the Iraqi government has postponed the electoral process in two large provinces. Ballots will be held in a total of 12 of Iraq’s 18 provinces.

Last Tuesday, the Iraqi Cabinet deemed the provinces of Anbar and Nineveh too dangerous to host elections. The proposed delay could last up to six months, according to a spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s office.

The decision to postpone was met with criticism amid claims the delay has nothing to do with security concerns, and is in fact motivated by political interests. Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr publically spoke out against the postponement, decrying it as a political ploy to prop up the current regime.

"Staying in the government is a sin and a fatal error,” Muqtada said in a statement released on March 19. He added that “this government has become more damaging than useful,” and slammed the Iraqi parliament as “weak” and the judiciary “politicized.”

Since the US-led NATO invasion to oust former leader Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq has had several elections, the latest of which was held in March 2010.

However, one decade after the ouster of the Hussein dictatorship, some argue that Iraq still lacks the tools to hold legitimate democratic elections. Tareq al-Maamuri, a lawyer and political analyst, told AP that there was a “big problem” with the electoral process in the country, the biggest of which was a general lack of understanding of how to run a modern election campaign.

"This has led to disrespected figures being elected into office which has, in turn, eroded confidence in the electoral process," al-Maamuri said. Candidates typically appeal to similar tribal, ethnic or sectarian backgrounds during their election campaigns, often playing off social rifts to win popularity.

Iraqi officials blamed the attacks on al-Qaeda, and denounced them for trying to sabotage the coming elections.
"Al-Qaeda has intensified its terrorist attacks on local election candidates and balloting centers with the aim of making the elections fail," Iraqi government media advisor Ali al-Musawi told Mawtani.

Newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry also rounded on the Iraqi government’s decision to delay the provincial elections. During a visit to the country earlier in March, he said that Washington was not convinced by the given reasons for the move, and encouraged Baghdad to reverse its decision.