Iraqi Sunni political parties request election postponement

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled their homes during the war with Daesh. (Reuters)
Updated 23 November 2017

Iraqi Sunni political parties request election postponement

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.”


Turkey raises migrant pressure on EU over Syria conflict

Updated 29 February 2020

Turkey raises migrant pressure on EU over Syria conflict

  • Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib region on Thursday
  • Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks

PAZARKULE: Turkey vowed the Syrian regime will “pay a price” for dozens of dead Turkish soldiers and raised pressure on the EU over the conflict by threatening to let thousands of migrants enter the bloc.
Turkey and Russia, which back opposing forces in the Syria conflict, held high-level talks to try to defuse tensions that have sparked fears of a broader war and a new migration crisis for Europe.
Greek police clashed on Saturday with thousands of migrants who were already gathering on the border to try to enter Europe.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday vowed to allow refugees to travel on to Europe from Turkey which he said can no longer handle new waves of people fleeing war-torn Syria. It already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
The comments were his first after Turkish 34 troops were killed since Thursday in the northern Syria province of Idlib where Moscow-backed Syrian regime forces are battling to retake the last rebel holdout area.
“What did we do yesterday (Friday)? We opened the doors,” Erdogan said in Istanbul. “We will not close those doors ...Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises.”
He was referring to a 2016 deal with the European Union to stop refugee flows in exchange for billions of euros in aid.
In Athens, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held an emergency meeting to discuss tensions on the border with Turkey.
The Turkish leader said 18,000 migrants have amassed on the Turkish borders with Europe since Friday, adding that the number could reach as many as 30,000 on Saturday.
Thousands of migrants who remained stuck on the Turkish-Greek border were in skirmishes with Greek police on Saturday who fired tear gas to push them back, according to AFP photographer in the western province of Edirne.
The migrants massed at the Pazarkule border crossing responded by hurling stones at the police.
In 2015, Greece became the main EU entry point for one million migrants, most of them refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. The pressure to cope with the influx split the European Union.
“Greece yesterday came under an organized, mass, illegal attack... a violation of our borders and endured it,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Saturday after the emergency meeting with Mitsotakis.
“We averted more than 4,000 attempts of illegal entrance to our land borders.”
A Greek police source said security forces fired tear gas Saturday morning against migrants massing on the Turkish side because the migrants had set fires and opened holes in the border fences.
Armed policemen and soldiers are patrolling the Evros river shores — a common crossing point — and are warning with loudspeakers not to enter Greek territory.
Greek authorities were also using drones to monitor the migrants moves.
Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told Skai television the situation was under control
“I believe that the borders have been protected,” he said.
According to Hellenic Coast Guard, from early Friday to early Saturday 180 migrants reached the islands of Eastern Aegean, Lesbos and Samos in sea crossings.
The UN said nearly a million people — half of them children — have been displaced in the bitter cold by the fighting in northwest Syria since December.
Turkey said that Turkish forces destroyed a “chemical warfare facility,” just south of Aleppo, in retaliation its soldiers were killed by Syrian regime fire in Idlib.
“As of last night, we blew up a depot housing seven chemical products,” Erdogan said. “We would not want things to reach this point but as they force us to do this, they will pay a price.”
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on sources inside the war-torn country, said that Turkey instead hit a military airport in eastern Aleppo, where the monitoring group says there are no chemical weapons.
Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib on Thursday, the biggest Turkish military loss on the battlefield in recent years. A 34th Turkish soldier has since died.
The latest incident has raised further tensions between Ankara and Moscow, whose relationship has been tested by violations of a 2018 deal to prevent a regime offensive on Idlib.
As part of the agreement, Ankara set up 12 observation posts in the province but Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces — backed by Russian air power — have pressed on with a relentless campaign to take back the remaining chunks of the territory.
On Friday, Erdogan spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in a bid to scale down the tensions, with the Kremlin saying the two expressed “serious concern” about the situation.
Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks, according to the Kremlin.
Despite being on opposite ends of the war, Turkey, which backs several rebel groups in Syria, and key regime ally Russia are trying to find a political solution.
The United States and the United Nations have called for an end to the Syrian offensive in Idlib and the deadly flare-up raising fresh concerns for civilians caught up in the escalation of the eight-year civil war.