A wave of deadly attacks on democracy advocates and journalists in Iraq have sparked mounting calls to boycott October parliamentary elections, as perpetrators go unpunished.
Killings, attempted murder and abductions have targeted more than 70 democracy advocates since a protest movement erupted against government corruption and incompetence in 2019.
Elections were set in response to a central demand of the protracted protest movement that lasted from October 2019 to June last year, and during which demonstrators also railed against Iran’s influence in Iraq, but as the attacks continue with impunity, more voices have joined a call to boycott the election.
Former Iraqi lawmaker Faeq al-Sheikh Ali resigned after anti-government campaigner Ihab al-Wazni was shot dead in an ambush in Karbala on May 9.
“I announce my withdrawal from the legislative elections,” he said after al-Wazni’s killing.
He also called for other leaders of the protest movement to pull out of the race.
“Prepare ... to continue the revolution in the coming months against Iran and its dirty militias,” Sheikh Ali said. “There is no other choice but to topple this criminal regime.”
Authorities have consistently failed to publicly identify or charge the perpetrators of the killings, which have not been claimed, but democracy advocates have repeatedly blamed Iran-linked armed groups that wield considerable influence in Iraq.
Al-Wazni had for many years criticized Iraqi armed groups and Iran’s outsized influence in the nation. The day after he was killed, prominent journalist Ahmed Hassan was also shot in southern Iraq. He remains in a coma after undergoing brain surgery.
After al-Wazni’s murder, a movement born out of the protests called al-Beit al-Watani said it would boycott the October elections.
“We reject elections until the killers of the leaders of the October revolution are behind bars,” founder Hussein al-Gharabi said, referring to the protest movement.
Since then, 17 groups have joined the call for a boycott.
“We are firmly against holding elections, as long as weapons are freely available and killings continue,” the groups said in a joint statement on Monday last week.
However, analysts expressed doubt that calls for a boycott would stop the elections, saying traditional parties control political power in the country through pressure, vote buying and intimidation.
Citing “chaos” in the nation, analyst Ali al-Baidar said “it would be better to push back the elections until the security situation improves.”
“Money [to buy votes] flows freely, weapons circulate without any control and political parties impose their will on citizens. All this is an obstacle to transparent elections,” he said.
However, he remained skeptical about the power of a boycott.
“There will be a media impact, and this will be a message to the international community, but it is the major parties that have the power and influence,” he said.
Political analyst Ihsan al-Shamari agreed.
He said groups linked to the protest movement “recognized the error they made in wanting to participate in the elections.”
“They realized it was the traditional parties, backed by foreign states, in particular Iran, that control the state, power, money and weapons,” al-Shamari said, adding that “they realize it is very difficult for them to enter the political scene.”
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