From Heather Murdock of VOA – ENGLISH
Many areas that Islamic State militants once controlled in Iraq look like Mosul’s old city. It was once the heart of the militants’ de facto capital in Iraq. Now, it is broken and mostly abandoned and bodies still decay where they landed.
Voters here say they are disillusioned, as they try to rebuild with whatever money they can scrape together.
“Look at how bad things are around here,” said Saad Dowed, a taxi driver and father of four in old Mosul. Across the street are the ruins of the ancient al-Nouri mosque, bombed out last summer by IS.
“Politicians come here and spend a lot of money,” he added. “They buy lambs and give the meat to the poor. They could have invested that in development.”
But Iraq is as diverse as it is troubled, with many religions, races, languages, and political priorities. And as voters chose from 7,000 candidates to elect a 329-seat national parliament, analysts say this year’s ballot could lead to an upset in the status quo, even if the party of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi fares well in the polls.
It will be Iraq’s first new national parliament since Islamic State militants were driven out of the country last year, but no one party is expected to be the clear winner. Following these elections could be months of deal-making before a new government emerges.
“It’s not only about voting,” said Nejem Al-Kassab, a political analyst in Baghdad. “There are many negotiations that need to happen among the politicians, including gaining the blessings of powerful Iraqi organizations … and the United States and Iran.”
More than 3 million people displaced by the IS battle and other wars live in camps across the country. In the camps, life is a day-to-day struggle for survival.
Despite last year’s victory over IS, many displaced voters are not sure that any group will protect them or help them recover. For Umm Aysha, a mother of five, including two missing daughters, ending corruption, growing the economy and even security take second place to her family’s immediate needs.
“We need cooking gas,” she said in her hot desert tent, after baking the family bread in a stove hand-made of mud and clay.
“And we want to go to school and have some money,” added her neighbor, 7-year-old Mehdi.
Polling stations will be set up in camps across the country as the displacement crisis continues to grow in many places, according to Rashid Darwesh Safti, a senior manager of the Hassan Sham camps for the Barzani Charity Foundation.
“People are coming back to camps for so many reasons,” he said. “There are security issues; people lack services. We are trying to help everyone, but it is very hard.”
Voices from Baghdad
In the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, some voters are more positive, saying increasing cross-sectarian political alliances may help a future government address problems that have plagued the country for decades, such as wars, economic crises, sectarian violence and corruption.
“The political situation is unstable,” said one activist as she handed out fliers for her favorite candidate. “We want to resolve problems between our many diverse and fragmented groups.”
Across town in his home, Muntazer al-Zaidi, a parliamentary candidate made famous in 2008 for throwing his shoes at then U.S.-President George Bush, said he believes new faces in office will help “correct some of the crimes done to the Iraqi people.”
Other voters are far more pessimistic, saying they believe new politicians will change little in the lives of the people, including ending the cycle of violence.
“We need development projects, security, and more jobs,” said Ali, a 17-year-old student who works at his family’s grocery store. “We need to rebuild what has been destroyed.”
After the election, the government that is formed will be based on a quota system. Positions, including prime minister and president, are designated to groups within the Iraqi public, including Shia and Sunni Muslims, Kurds, women and other minorities.
More than 350 kilometers north of Baghdad, in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, voters say for them, this election is critical.
Last year, a controversial Kurdistan independence referendum led to a massive upheaval in Irbil’s relationship with Baghdad. In response to the vote, Kurdish airports were closed and much of the land they were controlling was seized.
Negotiations have since led to a reopening of the airports, and voters hope continued talks will lead to more concessions from Baghdad; however, voting in strong members of parliament will be key to reaching fair agreements, according to Rabar Sabir, a 22-year-old Iraqi history student.
“We want a government that represents all people,” he said at a political rally in Irbil. “Not one that represents only a few sects, but all of us.”