In Iraq’s Anbar, election offers chance to settle scores

A man walks past posters of candidates for legislative elections in Ramadi, Anbar province. Parliamentary elections next month are an opportunity for the predominantly Sunni residents to settle scores. (AFP)
Updated 02 May 2018
0

In Iraq’s Anbar, election offers chance to settle scores

  • In January 2014, Daesh militants captured the city of Fallujah just west of the capital, and after a year of heavy fighting they took the city of Ramadi too
  • Three years of brutal militant rule may have helped ease sectarian tensions between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites

RAMADI, Iraq: In the vast desert province of Anbar where Daesh group militants first emerged in Iraq, parliamentary elections next month are an opportunity for the predominantly Sunni residents to settle scores.
Many of the new candidates are eager to push out lawmakers they believe minimized the danger of — or even sympathized with — the Sunni extremists that stormed across the country in the summer of 2014.
“The political class that existed before IS is no longer suitable. They have lost their credibility with the residents of Anbar,” said Rafea Al-Fahdawi, who heads the candidate list in the province for the Victory Alliance led by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi.
“They were involved in bringing terrorism and made people believe that terrorists were just rebels belonging to our tribes. The people of Iraq will punish them at the ballot box,” said Fahdawi, leader of the Tribes Against Terrorism coalition that battled militants in the western province.
In the lush garden surrounding his home in the city of Ramadi, tents were set up to host crowds that came to listen to Abadi, part of the premier’s campaign tour in the area.
“We fought against terrorism, and today, thanks to our campaign, we want to continue the fight against sectarianism. We have great hope for change,” said Fahdawi, 62, dressed in a traditional white robe.
In late 2013, Sunni tribes in Anbar rose up against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
In January 2014, Daesh militants captured the city of Fallujah just west of the capital, and after a year of heavy fighting they took the city of Ramadi too.
It was not until 2016 that the Iraqi army and the paramilitary forces of the Hashed Al-Shaabi managed to retake the two cities, recovering full control of Anbar province in late 2017.
The people of Anbar are eager for change, their feelings fueled by burning disappointment with the political class.
In the largely agricultural province, where tribes carry considerable weight, 352 candidates are competing on 18 lists for 15 seats.
A quarter of the contenders are running for office for the first time, according to the electoral commission, who say the province’s electoral lists include women and young people.
“The Iraqi people, in general, want to see radical and complete change. We will not accept the same faces under different (party) names and slogans,” said Sheikh Mohammed Al-Nimrawi, a leader of the Khalidiya tribes in Ramadi.
In a sign of the times, election fever has taken over the province.
It is a stark difference from previous polls and campaigns, which were bleak and almost secretive affairs as militants increased attacks on polling stations.
Despite Daesh threats against this year’s elections, campaign posters are everywhere in Anbar — hanging on the city’s destroyed homes and on the walls of newly rented candidate offices.
Even more surprising is the presence of a list from the Conquest Alliance led by Hadi Al-Ameri, the most well-known leader of the largely Shiite Hashed Al-Shaabi.
Ameri fought for Tehran in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war and has been accused of forming death squads in Iraq at the height of sectarian tensions nearly 10 years ago.
“The time for change has come. Anbar will witness social and political revolution and choose men who can steer the ship to safety,” said Khalaf Al-Jeblawi, a candidate on the Conquest Alliance list.
“The province has emerged from a fierce war and the Hashed fighters played a big role in the battle,” he said.
The Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force was formed in 2014 at the urging of Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani to counter the Daesh blitz.
But three years of brutal militant rule may have helped ease sectarian tensions between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites.
“While sectarian identities do retain a (somewhat diminished) political relevance, when it comes to violence, today ‘sectarianism’ is yesterday’s conflict,” said Fanar Haddad, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.
“I think that, for now, sectarian division is no longer the defining feature of Iraqi political mobilization.”


Macron and Merkel warn of ‘humanitarian risks’ in Idlib

Russian military support has helped Syrian regime troops to regain control of key cities such as Aleppo. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 August 2018
0

Macron and Merkel warn of ‘humanitarian risks’ in Idlib

  • US-backed forces had repelled a raid by Daesh targeting barracks housing American and French troops in eastern Syria
  • Daesh overran large swaths of Syria and Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” in territory it controlled

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced concern Friday about the humanitarian situation in the opposition-held Syrian region of Idlib, which is shaping up be the country’s next big battleground.
In a telephone call the two leaders described the “humanitarian risks” in Idlib, where regime forces have stepped up their bombardments of opposition positions in recent days, as “very high,” according to the French presidency.
They also called for an “inclusive political process to allow lasting peace in the region.”
President Bashar Assad has set his sights on retaking control of the northwestern province of Idlib — the biggest area still in opposition hands after seven years of war.
Last week, regime helicopters dropped leaflets over towns in Idlib’s east, urging people to surrender.
Idlib, which sits between Syria’s Mediterranean coast and the second city Aleppo, has been a landing point for thousands of civilians and rebel fighters and their families as part of deals struck with the regime following successive regime victories.
The UN has called for talks to avert “a civilian bloodbath” in the northern province, which borders Turkey.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said US-backed forces had repelled a raid by Daesh targeting barracks housing American and French troops in eastern Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition supporting them were on high alert after the raid late on Friday at the Omar oil field in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, the Britain-based war monitor said.
“The attack targeted the oil field’s housing, where US-led coalition forces and leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces are present,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Seven terrorists were killed in the attack, which ended at dawn after clashes near the barracks, he added.
Contacted by AFP, neither the US-led coalition nor the Kurdish-led SDF were immediately available for comment.
In October last year, the SDF took control of the Omar oil field, one of the largest in Syria, which according to The Syria Report economic weekly had a pre-war output of 30,000 barrels per day. “It’s the largest attack of its kind since the oil field was turned into a coalition base” following its capture by the SDF, Abdel Rahman said.
Daesh overran large swaths of Syria and Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” in territory it controlled.
But the terrorist group has since lost nearly all of it to multiple offensives in both countries.
In Syria, two separate campaigns — by the US-backed SDF and by the Russia-supported regime — have reduced Daesh’s presence to pockets in Deir Ezzor and in the vast desert that lies between it and the capital.