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Iraqis vote for new parliament hoping for change

Iraq closed its airspace and destroyed its air force on Sunday as voters were voting to elect parliament, despite widespread suspicion that some Iraqis are hopeful of reform after decades of conflict and mismanagement. Is.

The vote was originally scheduled for next year, but was brought forward in late 2019 in response to a popular uprising in the capital Baghdad and the southern provinces. Thousands took to the streets to protest endemic corruption, poor services and rising unemployment. They were confronted with deadly force when the security forces fired ammunition and tear gas shells. In a matter of months more than 600 people were killed and thousands were injured.

Although the authorities gave up on the elections prematurely and called them off, the death toll and heavy crackdown prompted many youth activists and protesters, who took part in the protests and later called for a boycott of the elections.

A series of kidnappings and targeted killings in which more than 35 people have been killed have discouraged many from taking part. Apathy is widespread amid deep suspicions that independent candidates stand a chance against established parties and politicians, many of them backed by armed militias.

“I voted because change is needed. I don’t want these same faces and the same parties to come back,” said 22-year-old car dealer Amir Fadel after casting his vote in Baghdad’s Karrdah district.

A total of 3,449 candidates are in the fray for 329 seats in the parliamentary elections, which would be the sixth since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and produced a sectarian-based power-sharing political system.

More than 250,000 security personnel across the country were tasked with protecting the vote. Soldiers, police and counter-insurgency forces were thrown out and deployed outside polling stations, some of which were tied up with barbed wire. Voters were patted on their backs and searched.

Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi urged Iraqis to vote in large numbers.

“Get out and vote, and change your reality for Iraq and your future,” said al-Kadhimi, repeating the phrase ‘get out’ three times after casting his ballot at a school in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone home, foreign embassies and government offices.

Only 44% of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2018 elections, a record low, and the results were widely contested. This time it is expected that the turnout will be equal or even less.

By noon, turnout was still relatively low and the roads were mostly deserted. At a tea stall in Karrdah, candidate Reem Abdulhadi, one of the few open candidates, asked if people had cast their vote.

“I will give my vote to Umm Kaltoum, the singer, she is the only one who deserves it,” replied the tea seller, referring to the late Egyptian singer beloved by many in the Arab world. He said that he will not participate in the elections and does not believe in the political process.

After a few words, Abdulhadi handed the man, who asked to remain anonymous, a card with his name and number in case he decided to change his mind. He kept it in his pocket.

“Thanks, I’ll keep it as a souvenir,” he said.

At that time, a low-flying, high-speed military aircraft flew overhead, making a hoarse noise. “Listen to this. This sound is terror. It reminds me of war, not elections.”

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq’s influential cleric Muktada al-Sadr cast his vote among a bunch of local journalists. Then he moved into a white sedan without commenting. Al-Sadr, a populist who has a huge following among Iraq’s working-class Shi’ites, came out on top in the 2018 elections, winning the most seats.

Groups of Iraq’s majority Shia Muslims dominate the electoral landscape, with hopes of a tight race between al-Sadr’s list and the Fatah coalition, led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri, who came second in the last election. .

The Fatah Alliance consists of parties affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly pro-Iranian Shia militias that rose to prominence during the war against the Sunni extremist Islamic State group. It includes some of the most staunch pro-Iranian factions, such as the Assab Ahl al-Haq militia. The black-turbaned nationalist leader al-Sadr is also close to Iran, but publicly dismisses its political influence.

Iraq’s autonomous Northern Kurdistan region was dominated by two main Kurdish parties known as the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which dominates the Kurdish government, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

This is the first election since the fall of Saddam, reflecting a significant improvement in the security situation in the country after the IS defeat in 2017, which has significantly improved the security situation in the country since the IS defeat in 2017. for decades.

As a security precaution, Iraq closed its airspace and land border crossings and dispersed its air force from Saturday night to Monday morning.

In another first, Sunday’s election is taking place under a new election law that divides Iraq into smaller constituencies – another demand from activists who participated in the 2019 protests – and allows for more independent candidates. .

A UN Security Council resolution adopted earlier this year authorized an expanded team to oversee the elections. There will be 600 international observers, including 150 from the United Nations. More than 24 million of Iraq’s estimated 38 million people are eligible to vote.

Iraq is also introducing biometric cards for first time voters. But despite all these measures, the claims of vote buying, intimidation and manipulation remain the same.

The head of Iraq’s election commission has said the results of the initial election will be announced within 24 hours.

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