Sun, May 13, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Iraqis head to polls first time since defeat of IS

AFP, BAGHDAD

Iraqis yesterday headed to the polls for the first parliamentary election since the government declared victory over the Islamic State (IS) group.

Voters across the nation cast their ballots under tight security, as the extremists still pose a major security threat, despite a sharp fall in violence.

The poll comes amid surging tensions between key powers Iran and the US after Washington pulled out of a key 2015 nuclear deal, sparking fears of a destabilizing power struggle in Iraq.

About 24.5 million voters faced a fragmented political landscape five months after the IS was ousted, with the dominant Shiites split, the Kurds in disarray and Sunnis sidelined.

More than 15 years since the US-led ouster of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, disillusionment is widespread and politics is dominated by old faces from an elite seen as mired in corruption and sectarianism.

At a polling station in the Baghdad’s Karrada District, 74-year-old Sami Wadi appealed for change “to save the country.”

“I call on all Iraqis to participate in the elections to prevent those who have controlled the nation since 2003 from staying in power,” the retiree told reporters.

In Iraq’s second city and former IS bastion Mosul — still partially in ruins from the months-long fight to oust the group — residents hoped for an uptick in their fortunes as they struggle to put their lives back together.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi — who took office as the IS rampaged across Iraq in 2014 — is angling for a new term, claiming credit for defeating the extremists and seeing off a Kurdish push for independence.

However, competition from within his Shiite community, the majority group dominating Iraqi politics, could divide the vote and spell lengthy horse-trading to form any government.

Whoever emerges as prime minister will face the mammoth task of rebuilding a country left shattered by the battle against the IS — with donors already pledging US$30 billion.

More than 2 million people remain internally displaced and the IS maintains the capacity to launch deadly attacks.

Overall, just fewer than 7,000 candidates stood and Iraq’s complex electoral system meant no single bloc was likely to get anything near a majority in the 329-seat parliament.

Al-Abadi, who has balanced the US and Iran, is facing two leading challengers to his Victory Alliance.

Former Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki is widely reviled for stirring sectarianism and losing territory to the IS, but draws support from hardliners.

Another frontrunner, former Iraqi minister of transportation Hadi al-Ameri, led Iran-backed paramilitary units that fought the IS alongside Baghdad’s troops and heads a list of ex-combatants.

Votes in the Sunni heartlands once dominated by the IS, including Mosul, are up in the air, as traditional alliances have been shredded by the fallout of extremist rule.

Political forces in the Kurdish community — often seen as potential kingmakers — are also in disarray after a September last month vote for independence spectacularly backfired.

The Kurds look set to lose some of their clout on the national stage after Baghdad unleashed a battery of sanctions and seized back disputed oil-rich regions.

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