Iraq recently held provincial elections in twelve of its eighteen provinces. Voting did not take place in Anbar and Ninewa however, because the government had indefinitely postponed them there. Now a date has finally been given for those governorates to have their day at the ballot box in June 2013. Security was the official reason given for the delay, but it was widely believed that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wanted to stop candidates supported by the protest movements there from gaining power. That move has likely backfired as the demonstrations are going on as strong as ever, and security is even worse than before.
Iraq’s government recently said that Ninewa and Anbar would be allowed to vote on June 20, 2013. The cabinet claimed the date came from the Election Commission. That could be true as last month the news was that the two provinces would cast ballots on July 4 instead. The postponement was originally announced on March 19 with security being the rationale. This came after the Anbar provincial council voted to delay the elections a few days beforehand. There definitely was violence going on in those two governorates with 14 candidates haven withdrawn from the city of Mosul for example in Ninewa due to death threats. (1) Al Qaeda in Iraq has consistently been against all elections in the country, and Mosul has always been one of their urban strongholds, so they were likely behind the intimidation there. That being said, overall security was not much different in March than it had been the previous months. The real reason for the delay was probably the protests in major cities such as Ramadi, Fallujah, and Mosul, which started after Baghdad issued arrest warrants for former Finance Minister Rafi Issawi’s bodyguards on terrorism charges. These demonstrations quickly focused upon Sunni victimhood, which they blamed on Prime Minister Maliki. Not wanting to have these forces be institutionalized through winning seats on the provincial councils, the premier pushed through a delay in the balloting in those areas.
The move immediately provoked condemnations by political forces in the two provinces. Speaker Osama Nujafi and his brother the Governor of Ninewa Atheel Nujafi both attacked the delay. A member of their Al-Hadbaa Party and a Christian councilman also said that voting should happen on time. In Anbar, the Iraqi Islamic Party accused Maliki of attempting a coup against the political process, while Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha a leader of the Awakening Movement and the protests called on the council of ministers to reverse its decision. Anbar Governor Qasim Fahadawi was one of the few voices that supported the delay. (2) He claimed that with the security forces deployed to protect the protest sites there would not be enough soldiers and police to defend the polling areas as well. Speaker Nujafi has become one of the leading critics of the prime minister, and his base is in Ninewa, so it was obvious that he could come out against any postponement of voting there. In Anbar, the criticisms were a bit ironic. Both the Islamic Party and Abu Risha’s Awakening of Iraq and Independents held a large number of seats on the Anbar provincial council, which voted overwhelmingly for a delay. Either those politicians have developed their own base and no longer rely upon their leadership or there was some secret maneuvering behind the scenes to perhaps provoke the central government, and give a rallying point for the protests, which Abu Risha and the Islamic Party are both heavily involved in. Whatever the case, all of these parties are likely to do quite well when the votes are finally cast. Nujafi’s Mutahidun, Uniters, emerged as the leading Sunni vote getter in the provinces that did hold elections in April. Abu Risha and the Islamic Party are likely to come out with a large number of ballots as well. In fact, after the Hawija incident, any hope Maliki might have had to change the political situation with the postponement has now evaporated, and the general public is even angrier than before at the authorities as shown from the huge increase in violence across northern and central Iraq in recent weeks.
Delaying the vote in Anbar and Ninewa was always a very controversial move. The weak institutions in the country meant that there was nothing to challenge Premier Maliki’s decision. With demonstrations growing in those two provinces he didn’t want them to put their voices into action through the ballot box, and was hoping that his allies might be able to gain more support or the protests might have lessoned or been broken up by now. Instead, the situation is even more inflamed. If security was the rationale for the postponement in March, it will be even harder to gain control of the two governorates in June to ensure the security of the polling stations. The prime minister’s plans have thus backfired, and whether the demonstrations end anytime soon or not, they and their political backers will at least be able to place officials into office that will carry on with their spirit if not demands for the next several years.
1. Al Rafidayn, “Electoral Commission: the withdrawal of the 14 candidates for the provincial elections in Mosul after receiving threats,” 3/18/13
2. Alsumaria, “Anbar governor attributed the postponement of the elections for the preoccupation with security forces to protect protesters,” 3/20/13
Agence France Presse, “Iraq delays polls in two provinces for security reasons,” 3/19/13
AIN, “IIP describes postponing local elections in Anbar, Nineveh as disappointing,” 3/20/13
Ali, Ghassan, “Decision to postpone local elections in Anbar and Nineveh,” Radio Free Iraq, 3/19/13
Alsumaria, “Anbar governor attributed the postponement of the elections for the preoccupation with security forces to protect protesters,” 3/20/13
- “Iraq Anbar candidates file lawsuit to challenge elections postponement,” 3/22/13
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Aswat al-Iraq, “Delay of elections worsens situation, Ninewa officials,” 3/19/13
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Al Rafidayn, “Electoral Commission: the withdrawal of the 14 candidates for the provincial elections in Mosul after receiving threats,” 3/18/13
Shafaq News, “Anbar and Nineveh’s Polls to be Held on May,” 4/2/13
- “IHEC: We haven’t received the letter regarding postponing the ballots,” 3/24/13
Visser, Reidar, “The Postponement of Provincial Elections in Anbar and Nineveh: Initial Reactions,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 3/20/13
- “The Question of the Legality of the Delay of the Iraqi Local Elections in Anbar and Nineveh,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 3/22/13
Wicken, Stephen, “2013 Iraq Update #9: Issawi resignation presents opportunities to Maliki,” Institute for the Study of War, 3/1/13
Wicken, Stephen and Ali, Ahmed, “2013 Iraq Update #12: Maliki and Sadr Raise Electoral Stakes,” Institute for the Study of War, 3/22/13