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
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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.”


Israel to build 2,500 new settler homes

Many Palestinians regard the announcement of the new settlements as being directly linked to the recent opening of the new US Embassy and the killings in Gaza. (Reuters)
Updated 52 min 11 sec ago
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Israel to build 2,500 new settler homes

  • The stark warning comes after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed on Thursday that he would seek final approval for 2,500 homes to be built across 30 settlements.
  • They are working to superimpose greater Israel on all of historic Palestine, says Hanan Ashrawi

AMMAN, Jordan: Israel’s decision to build thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied West Bank has “ended the two-state solution,” according to Palestinian officials.

The stark warning comes after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed on Thursday that he would seek final approval for 2,500 homes to be built across 30 settlements. The work is likely to be approved at a planning committee meting next week.

The timing of Lieberman’s announcement is regarded as particularly provocative by Palestinian officials, still angered by the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem and the killing of 60 protesters in Gaza on May 15.

In a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the Palestinian president, said: “The continuation of the settlement policy, statements by American officials supporting settlements, and incitement by Israeli ministers have ended the two-state solution and ended the American role in the region.”

The 2,500 houses, which are illegal under international law, will be spread across the occupied West Bank, with construction work due to begin immediately after approval is granted. The new houses will include 400 dwellings in Ariel, north of Jerusalem, and 460 in Ma’ale Adumim, a city already inhabited by about 40,000 people. Lieberman also said that “in coming months” he would push for the approval of another 1,400 settler houses now in the preliminary stages of planning.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) executive committee, said the plans reveal “the real nature of Israeli colonialism, expansionism and lawlessness.”

She said: “Undoubtedly, Israel is deliberately working to enhance its extremist Jewish settler population and to superimpose greater Israel on all of historic Palestine.”

In an appeal to the International Criminal Court earlier this week, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry branded Israeli settlements “the single most dangerous threat to Palestinian lives and livelihoods.” 

Ashrawi called for the legal body to “open an immediate criminal investigation into Israel’s flagrant violations of international law.”

According to a June 2017 article in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, more than 380,000 settlers live in the West Bank, with more than 40 percent based outside official settlements. Many Palestinians regard the announcement of the new settlements as being directly linked to the recent opening of the new US embassy and the killings in Gaza.

Khalil Tufakji, director of the maps and survey department at the Arab Studies Society, a Jerusalem-based NGO, told Arab News that the houses were designed to placate demands from the Israeli rightwing to create “a single state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.”