In Iraq’s shattered Mosul, voters eye fresh start after Daesh

Iraqis line up to check where they are registered to vote during a parliamentary election in Falluja, Iraq on May 12, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 May 2018

In Iraq’s shattered Mosul, voters eye fresh start after Daesh

MOSUL: Voters in the ravaged Iraqi city of Mosul flocked to the polls on Saturday, hoping that parliamentary elections can help turn the page after the devastating war against Daesh.

Daesh “used to repeat to us in the mosques that democracy was a crime against Islam,” said 41-year-old laborer Hareth Mohammad.

“But today I am happy that I have voted.”

While voting appeared sparse in other regions around the country, turnout was strong in the former Iraqi capital of the self-declared Daesh rule.

After seeing off the yoke of years of militant domination, people in the northern city seemed keen to make their voices count.

“We have voted so that they hear us,” said Amina, who like all women in the city was forced to remain indoors under the strict rule of Daesh.

The old center of Mosul — Iraq’s second city — remains in ruins some 10 months after federal forces wrested control from the militants following ferocious street-to-street combat.

Houses are bombed out, corpses still rot under the rubble and unexploded ordnance poses a constant threat. The devastation was just the latest chapter of suffering for a city that has been at the center of so much of the upheaval that has torn Iraq apart since the 2003 US-led invasion.

“Now that we are free from IS (Daesh) we are voting for security,” said Umm Sebhane, 63, a large smile spreading across her face.

After the ferocity of the latest battle, residents in the majority Sunni city are struggling to rebuild their lives and insist their priorities are simple.

“I am voting to choose who will lead the country to stability, security and genuine public services,” said Abu Hassan, dressed in a white robe.

How voting will go across Iraq’s Sunni heartlands — of which Mosul is a key part — is up in the air as the fallout from militant rule has shredded local alliances.

Traditional parties have been tainted by their failure to stand up to Daesh and Shiite politicians — led by Prime Minister Haider Abadi — are hoping to make inroads.

The minority Sunnis once dominated Iraq under dictator Saddam Hussein, but they have played second fiddle since his ouster 15 years ago.

Whether Iraq now manages to reintegrate the community will be crucial for the future of the country, as anger over marginalization helped fuel the rise of Daesh.

Iraqi political expert Ali Al-Zoubeidi said that the vote should help “determine the future” of the Nineveh region where Mosul is located and “improve its relations with the central government.”

In much of Iraq, voters have railed against the fact that the same old figures from the post-Saddam political elite are appearing at the top of the ballots.

But in Mosul and the broader region the situation was starkly different.

This time around some 75 percent of candidates fighting for the 34 seats up for grab in the region are newcomers, showing just how much upheaval there has been.

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate's withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

Updated 30 min 21 sec ago

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate's withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

  • Withdrawal of Mohammad Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms
  • Lebanon's bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil.

Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a "harmonious" government with broad political support.

Safadi was the first candidate who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon's fractious sectarian-based parties since Saad Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite.

The withdrawal of Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.

Reflecting the brittle political climate, President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) accused Hariri of undermining Safadi's bid in order to keep the job for himself.

"Saad (al-Hariri) is delaying things with the goal of burning all the names and emerging as the saviour," said a source familiar with the FPM's view.

A statement by Hariri's office rejected the FPM assertion as an irresponsible attempt to "score points" despite Lebanon's "major national crisis".

Faced by the worst financial strains since a 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has pledged urgent reforms it hopes will convince donors to disburse some $11 billion pledged last year.

The unrest has kept banks shut for most of the last month. They have imposed controls on transfers abroad and US dollar withdrawals, and the pegged Lebanese pound is under pressure on an informal market.

Safadi became the presumed front-runner for prime minister after a meeting between Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, according to political sources and Lebanese media, but no political force later endorsed him.

Lebanon's prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.

Protesters who have filled the streets since Oct. 17 hit out at the choice of Safadi, a prominent businessman and longtime politician they said was part of the elite they sought to oust.

"We are in a deadlock now. I don't know when it will move again. It is not easy," said a senior political source. "The financial situation doesn't tolerate any delay."

A second political source described efforts to form a new government as "back to square one."

Safadi's withdrawal leaves the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies with even fewer options unless they push for a close Sunni ally, a scenario that would likely reduce the chances of Lebanon winning international support. Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and many other countries.

Hezbollah and Amal, along with Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier while including both technocrats and politicians in a new cabinet.

But Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab states and the West, has said he will only return as prime minister if he is able to form a cabinet composed entirely of specialists capable of attracting the international support.

Global ratings agency S&P flashed the latest warning on Lebanon's debt-saddled economy on Friday, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk territory to 'CCC/C' from 'B-/B'.

Lebanon's bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday that has kept banks shut. The strike is over safety fears as depositors demand access to their money. Union members are set to meet on Monday to discuss a security plan to keep branches safe.