Iraqis cast their votes in Britain

1 / 2
Iraqi expatriates cheerfully participated in the elections in London under the watchful gaze of election observers. (AN photo by James Hanna)
2 / 2
Iraqi expatriates cheerfully participated in the elections in London under the watchful gaze of election observers. (AN photo by James Hanna)
Updated 12 May 2018
0

Iraqis cast their votes in Britain

  • Iraq's parliamentary election will be on May 12, 2018, but voting overseas are done in advance.
  • It is the fourth parliamentary election in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 and the first since the defeat of Daesh last summer.

LONDON: With pride and cautious optimism for the future, Iraqi expatriates in the UK cast their votes in the national parliamentary elections on Thursday. 

In Central London, voters young and old cheerfully participated in the plebiscite under the watchful gaze of election observers. 

“Oh. Baghdad. Your love sits in my heart,” warbled Kadam Al-Ahmady, dropping his vote in the ballot box, proudly raising an index finger stained purple with election ink. 

“It would be shameful to let go of your love,” the elderly Al-Ahmady intoned. 

An upbeat mood prevailed on Thursday morning, as voters snapped selfies at the ballot boxes after selecting their choice of representatives for the Iraqi legislature.  

While the vote, which will be held on Saturday in Iraq, marks the fourth parliamentary election since the US-led invasion in 2003, it is the first time Iraqis will head to nationwide polls since the defeat of Daesh last summer. 

If previous elections have been held against the backdrop of intense sectarian violence, the comparative calm prevailing today has led some Iraqi voters to believe the election to form a new government will help bring the country together.  Younger voters in particular expressed eagerness for increased national unity.

“We should all think about Iraq … without difference for Kurdish or Turkmen or Sunni or Shiite,” said Mohammad Al-Bayati, a PhD student who traveled from Portsmouth with his wife and young sons. “It’s not just for us, but for our children,” he said. 

“This is another step in the right direction,” said Ali Khadr, a British Iraqi. 

Fifteen years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Khadr said that Iraqis are no strangers to the democratic process.  

“Voting in previous years felt almost routine. Whereas, now, for the first time in years, Iraq is witnessing visible progress. Certainly within my family, here and in Iraq, there is a real optimism for better days,”

Others voters, however, were less enthusiastic. 

“If you look at all the manifestos … regardless of which religious or ethnic group, all of them talk about building an Iraq full of institutions, and Iraq that is free of sectarianism,” said Mohanad Abdel Rahman, an Iraqi national who has lived most of his life in the UK. 

“It’s all nice platitudes but the reality on the ground suggests there is a very long way to go. “

Rawnaq Abdul Hamid, however, counts herself among the optimists. “I’ve got hope,” she told Arab News. The expectant mother, who has been living in the UK for 11 years, could scarcely hide her smile as she cast her ballot. 

“I came from Harrow to here just to vote,” she said. 

“We are looking forward to our country being better than before.” 

According to Raad Tamimi, who organized the UK proceedings on behalf of Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, more than 10,000 expatriates will cast ballots at eight polling stations across the UK in the coming days. Voting procedures are being scrutinized by election monitors from Iraq’s political parties and members of civil society. Previous elections have been marred by allegations of fraud, and some remain concerned about ballot rigging. 

While a new biometric system implemented in Iraq makes voter fraud difficult within the country, election monitor Farhad Maruf worried that physical ballot boxes at UK polling stations could be manipulated. 

“My concern is fairness of the election, that’s the most important thing for me,” he said, his eyes fixed on a plastic ballot box sealed with tamper-evident zip-ties. 


US clinches strategic port deal with Oman

Updated 59 min 38 sec ago
0

US clinches strategic port deal with Oman

  • The accord is viewed through an economic prism by Oman, which wants to develop Duqm while preserving its Switzerland-like neutral role in Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy
  • The deal could also better position the United States in the region for what has become a global competition with China for influence

WASHINGTON: The United States clinched a strategic port deal with Oman on Sunday which US officials say will allow the US military better access to the Gulf region and reduce the need to send ships through the Strait of Hormuz, a maritime choke point off Iran.
The US embassy in Oman said in a statement that the agreement governed US access to facilities and ports in Duqm as well as in Salalah and "reaffirms the commitment of both countries to promoting mutual security goals."
The accord is viewed through an economic prism by Oman, which wants to develop Duqm while preserving its Switzerland-like neutral role in Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy.
But it comes as the United States grows increasingly concerned about Iran's expanding missile programs, which have improved in recent years despite sanctions and diplomatic pressure by the United States.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deal was significant by improving access to ports that connect to a network of roads to the broader region, giving the US military great resiliency in a crisis.
"We used to operate on the assumption that we could just steam into the Gulf," one US official said, adding, however, that "the quality and quantity of Iranian weapons raises concerns."
Tehran has in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route at the mouth of the Gulf, in retaliation for any hostile US action, including attempts to halt Iranian oil exports through sanctions.
Still, the US official noted that the agreement would expand US military options in the region for any kind of crisis.
Duqm is an ideal port for large ships. It is even big enough to turn around an aircraft carrier, a second official said.
"The port itself is very attractive and the geostrategic location is very attractive, again being outside the Strait of Hormuz," the official said, adding that negotiations began under the Obama administration.
For Oman, the deal will further advance its efforts to transform Duqm, once just a fishing village 550 km (345 miles) south of capital Muscat, into a key Middle East industrial and port center, as its diversifies its economy beyond oil and gas exports.
The deal could also better position the United States in the region for what has become a global competition with China for influence.
Chinese firms once aimed to invest up to $10.7 billion in the Duqm project, a massive injection of capital into Oman, in what was expected to be a commercial, not military, arrangement.
"It looks to me like the Chinese relationship here isn't as big as it appeared it was going to be a couple of years ago," the second official said.
"There's a section of the Duqm industrial zone that's been set aside for the Chinese ... and as far as I can tell so far they've done just about nothing."
Still, China has in the past shown no qualms about rubbing up against US military facilities.
In 2017, the African nation of Djibouti, positioned at another geostrategic choke-point, the strait of Bab Al-Mandeb, became home to China's first overseas military base. The US military already had a base located just miles away, which has been crucial for operations against Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other militant groups.