- Title: IRAQ: Iraqis uncertain of future ahead of elections
- Date: 30th January 2009
- Summary: BAGHDAD, IRAQ (JANUARY 30, 2009) (REUTERS) HIGHWAY IN BAGHDAD WITH TRAFFIC VARIOUS OF TRAFFIC VIEW OF STREET LINED WITH POSTERS AND PICTURES OF CANDIDATES RUNNING IN PROVINCIAL ELECTIONS CLOSEUP OF CANDIDATE IN PROVINCIAL ELECTIONS IRAQI FLAG BAGHDAD, IRAQ (JANUARY 29, 2009) (REUTERS) REPORTER SPEAKING WITH IRAQI SECULAR LEADER AYAD ALLAWI CAMPAIGN POSTER OF ALLAWI (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) AYAD ALLAWI, IRAQI FORMER PRIME MINISTER WHOSE PARTY IS FIELDING CANDIDATES, SAYING: ''The vision of the future is still unclear, even if the elections take place. It is still unknown because Iraq still lacks basic principles. The political experiment still does not include all Iraqis.'' ALLAWI SPEAKING WITH REPORTER EXTERIOR OF IRAQ'S INDEPENDENT HIGHER COMMISSION FOR THE ELECTION (IHEC) / SECURITY VEHICLES AND GUARDS VARIOUS OF WORKERS UNLOADING VOTING BOOTHS VARIOUS INTERIORS OF IHEC WHERE BALLOT BOXES OF EARLY VOTES ARE BEING COLLECTED WIDE VIEW OF REPORTER SPEAKING WITH IRAQI SECULAR PARTY LEADER MITHAL ALOUSI (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) MITHAL ALOUSI, IRAQI SECULAR PARTY LEADER WHOSE PARTY IS FIELDING CANDIDATES, SAYING: ''Iraqis are demanding a new start and are working towards making a change through the elections but the question is - will the parties accept the results of the election, or will they seek to ignite a new sectarian war, maybe Shiite-Shiite or Sunni-Sunni internal conflict. I wonder how it is right for the prime minister and his MPs to campaign in certain regions and not others. It is as if they are saying we have divided Iraq, one for the Sunnis and one for the Shiites.'' REPORTER SPEAKING WITH ALOUSI BAGHDAD, IRAQ (JANUARY 30, 2009) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF CAMPAIGNING EVENT BY SHIITE RELIGIOUS LEADER ABDEL AZIZ AL-HAKIM/CROWDS CHEERING
- Embargoed: 14th February 2009 12:00
- Location: Iraq
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA7X9356M9L2QITGGP2PRMVONOD
- Story Text: Elections in Iraq, the first since the government emerged from the shadow of U.S. power, are a test of the country's fledgling democracy almost six years after the U.S.-led invasion unleashed catastrophic bloodshed.
Ahead of their first election in three years, Iraqi citizens thoughts have been preoccupied with concerns for livelihood, security and religious fulfilment. Iraqis will vote on Saturday (January 31) to elect new provincial leaders.
When Iraqis last voted in 2005, there were fears that Iraq would become an Iran-like theocracy instead of a moderate democracy envisioned by Washington.
Now the question on many minds is whether religious parties that have dominated politics since then can hang on to power despite the bitterness felt by Iraqis starved of services and security.
Among the parties fielding candidates are Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), which represent Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority, and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party.
All face challenges from fledgling tribal and nationalist movements.
Secular leaders in Iraq, whose parties are also fielding candidates, warn that despite the progress elections may bring, the political process still lacks the inclusion of all Iraqis from different faiths and ethnic groups.
And as long as that is the case, the future will remain blurry, says secularist and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
''The vision of the future is still unclear, even if the elections take place. It is still unknown because Iraq still lacks basic principles. The political experiment still does not include all Iraqis,'' Allawi told Reuters Television.
"The question is will the parties accept the results of the election or will they seek to ignite a new sectarian war, maybe Shiite-Shiite or Sunni-Sunni internal conflict?'' asked another secularist, Mithal Alousi.
''I wonder how it can be right for the prime minister and his MPs to campaign in certain regions and not others. It is as if they are saying we have divided Iraq, one for the Sunnis and one for the Shiites,'' he added.
Analysts say a steep decline in militia and Sunni-Shiite violence that peaked in 2006 and 2007 had fuelled a tentative turn away from sectarian politics. Nevertheless, such changes are not expected to yield a tectonic shift in Iraqi politics.
Among Shi'ite parties, ISCI has been one of the most overt in its use of religion in its election campaign.
Ammar al-Hakim, a senior ISCI leader, told Reuters that Iraq's constitution -- approved by referendum in 2005 -- meant it could not be compared to theocratic Iran when looking at religion's role in politics.
Like other Shi'ite politicians, Hakim bristles at the suggestion that secularists could gain from the perceived incompetence of Islamic parties.
Some of Iraq's most well-known religious figures are not plunging into the electoral arena. Moqtada al-Sadr, who once spoke for millions of poor Shi'ites, will not run his own candidates in a move that may reflect his waning influence.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most senior Iraqi Shi'ite authority, is not backing a specific candidate.
Yet devotion may not outweigh dissatisfaction in a country that, while safer, is still shaken by routine bloodshed and where, almost six years after the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, millions go without electricity and jobs.
''God willing, this will be an election that will determine who are the good people that can serve this country well,'' said Abu Malak.
There are some 14,000 candidates running to fill 440 seats in provincial councils that will determine the leaders of provinces.
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