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Iraqi Sunni political parties request election postponement

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled their homes during the war with Daesh. (Reuters)
BAGHDAD: Iraqi Sunni political parties have requested that the national parliamentary elections scheduled for May 15 2018 be postponed. Sunni politicians told Arab News the parties have stipulated that displaced people should have the chance to return to their homes before the elections are held.
Around 2 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes over the last three years as Daesh took over much of the country followed by military operations launched by the government to retake those areas. Most of the displaced people are living mainly in Kurdistan, Baghdad and the south. Others are living in camps on the borders of their provinces.
“Elections must be held in all areas, with the participation of all Iraqis,” Kamil Al-Ghurairi, a Sunni lawmaker and senior political leader, told Arab News.
“How can elections be held while most of the displaced people of Mosul, Anbar, Salahudeen and Baghdad are still out of their areas? We have demanded the postponement of the election in order to ensure the participation of all,” he said.
While the majority of the displaced are Sunnis, they include Shiites, Turkmen, Christians, Shabaks and Yazidis. Hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis have been unable to return to their homes due to security and political issues, even though some of the areas in which they live were liberated more than two years ago, Sunni politicians told Arab News.
“If the government is serious, it can return those (displaced people) to their areas before the scheduled date for the election, but there are many agendas preventing it,” Bahaa Al-Deen Al-Naqshbandi, deputy head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, told Arab News.
“These agendas may aim to make demographic changes in these areas. There are many who do not want those (displaced people) to participate in the election,” Al-Naqshbandi, said. “They are seeking to ensure the participation of a component (Shiites or Kurds) and the exclusion of another one (Sunnis).”
The major concern for the Sunni parties requesting the postponement is the emergence of new Sunni factions in traditionally Sunni-dominated areas who are loyal to Shiite political forces. Those are the Sunni political figures and tribes who battled against Daesh under the umbrella of the Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization Forces, who now control the liberated areas.
“What Sunni leaders do not explicitly declare is their fear of losing most of their current (Parliament) seats to new Sunni faces linked to the popular mob that fought and liberated the Sunni lands,” a senior Sunni leader told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“The chances that the old Sunni political leaders and forces can win the elections are negligible, because most of them have failed to protect their people or relieve their suffering over recent years,” he added. “Most of them have not even visited the camps for the displaced or fought to defend their areas. Why should people vote for them?”
Iraq’s Electoral Commission began updating voter records and distributing voter cards earlier this week. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi and leading Shiite clerics Moqtada Sadr and Basheer Al-Najafi were among the first to receive the voter cards and call on their followers to take them.
In his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Abadi told reporters that the election would be held as scheduled and the view that the elections has to be postponed are “disrespectful.”
“Returning displaced people to their areas, is important,” he said. “There is an election and it’s important for them to go back to their homes to participate in it.
“The government’s efforts are now focused on supporting their (return), by providing the necessary services and security and meeting their needs in these areas,” he continued.
“We have set deadlines for their return and, God willing, we will abide by them.”

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