Iraq bomb before election has some fearing new civil war
Just two weeks before crucial Iraq parliamentary elections and amid a dispute over the disqualifications of some candidates with ties to Saddam Hussein's banned Baath party, a suicide bomber killed 11 in Anbar Province. Some in Iraq are worried that the controversial disqualifications are heightening tensions.
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Odierno said at a conference on Tuesday at the Army and Navy Club in Washington that Mr. al-Lami was arrested in 2008 after the US received "intelligence" that indicated he was involved in organizing an attack on US and Iraqi soldiers in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City in concert with the movement of militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Al-Lami was released in August 2009, Odierno said, because of insufficient evidence to prosecute.Skip to next paragraph
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Odierno: al-Lami and Chalabi 'influenced by Iran'
Al-Lami "has been involved in very nefarious activities in Iraq for some time," Odierno said. "It is disappointing that somebody like him was in fact put in charge or has been able to run this commission inside of Iraq." Odierno added that both al-Lami and Chalabi are "clearly are influenced by Iran. We have direct intelligence that tells us that" and "we believe they're absolutely involved in influencing the outcome of the election."
Maysoon al-Damluji, a candidate with Al Iraqiya, says she believes the sectarian fervor whipped up by the disqualifications could again lead Iraqis to take up arms to protect themselves.
“They use the Baathists as an ogre to scare people, especially in places like Baghdad,” she says of the two main Shiite-dominated parties. “This is a competition that started about who hates Baathists more … and then the government took advantage of it to shift the focus from lack of services, lack of job opportunities, and deteriorating security to debaathification.”
Since the campaign opened last week, some television stations funded by Shiite religious parties, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki’s Dawa party, have aired ads showing Saddam-era atrocities against Shiites after the 1991 Gulf War.
“The militias never disappeared,” says Saad Eskander, an analyst who is head of Iraq’s National Library. “The Shiites are trying to have a clear majority to control the three branches of government – executive, legislative and the judiciary - the Sunnis are trying to have enough seats to hinder the work of the Shiites and the Kurds are waiting to see what will happen.”
“It’s up to both sides – if the Sunnis are not happy with the results or the Shiites are not happy with the result all of this might lead to a chaotic situation and result in civil war,” he says.
What about jobs?
The crisis over the banned candidates has overshadowed what voters say are their real concerns – restoring public services such as electricity, improving security, and creating jobs to ease an unemployment rate estimated at 50 percent in some areas.
Provincial elections last year sent a strong message to the traditional religious parties who lost ground among voters who widely felt they could not deliver basic services or crack down on corruption.
Secular as well as Sunni parties see themselves as the main target of the ban. Iraqi officials have blamed Baathists for everything from planning huge suicide attacks carried out against government buildings to plotting a military coup.
Calls for a Sunni boycott have eased, with some polls showing that the ban on Sunni candidates could spur more Sunnis to vote. One candidate, in Mosul, has already been assassinated and security concerns have contributed to a quiet campaign.
At the scene of the governorate bombing in Ramadi on Thursday, Mohammad Barakat, unemployed and 18, was knocked down by the blast.
"This is a struggle between the political parties, and I’m sure they had a hand in this explosion,” he says. “We will go to the polls and change everything…. We know there will be more explosions aimed at obstructing the elections to deprive the Sunnis from gaining more seats.”
Jamal Naji contributed reporting.