Thursday, 6 March 2014

Votes or Voice? By Nermeen Al-Mufti

Votes or Voice?

February was the most violent month in Iraq since 2008, with hundreds of people being killed in the run-up to next month’s parliamentary elections, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti in Baghdad

February marked the bloodiest month in Iraq since 2008, and although 2013 was the bloodiest year in Iraq in more than five years, the February death toll was more than three times that of February 2013.

According to casualty figures released last week by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), a total of 703 Iraqis were killed and another 1,381 were injured in acts of terrorism and violence in February.

The number of civilians killed was 564, including 152 civil police, while the number of civilians injured was 1,179, including 262 civil police. A further 139 members of the Iraqi security forces were killed and 202 were injured, not including casualties from the Anbar province operation.

“The political, social and religious leaders of Iraq have an urgent responsibility to come together in the face of the terrorist threat that the country is facing. Only by working together can Iraqis address the causes of violence and build a democratic society in which the rule of law is observed and human rights are protected,” special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq Nickolay Mladenov said.

Anbar excluded, Baghdad was the worst affected governorate in Iraq, with 790 civilian casualties (239 killed and 551 injured), followed by Salahuddine (121 killed and 235 injured), Ninewa (94 killed and 133 injured), Babil (53 killed and 131 injured), and Diyala (39 killed and 96 injured).

Regarding the operations in Anbar province, according to information obtained by the UNAMI from the health committee of the provincial government of the Anbar province, total civilian casualties in Anbar in February were 298 killed and 1,198 injured, with 189 killed and 550 injured in the town of Ramadi and 109 killed and 648 injured in Fallujah.

UNAMI has not been able to independently verify these figures nor account for the status of those killed and injured as civilians. In an interview aired by Al-Iraqiya TV, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki said that the causalities in Basra during the Sawlat Al-Fursan operations had been greater than the causalities in Anbar.

Sawlat Al-Fursan was the military operation led by Al-Maliki himself against the militias controlling Basra in March 2008.

Iraqi politicians who have made their reputations through the use of sectarian slogans have continued to state that the ongoing military operations in Anbar province are part of a new sectarian war, but there is evidence to suggest that this is not the case.

One citizen, Assad Al-Hilali from the town of Kerbala, posted a photograph of Abu Jennar from Ramadi on his Facebook page, saying “I owe the life of my son to this noble man from Ramadi who saved the life of my son twice.”

“My son needed medicine that could not be found in Kerbala. Abu Jennar read my appeal on Facebook, found the medicine in Ramadi, and sent it to me a week ago. Despite the military operations in Ramadi, Abu Jennar risked his life and went to buy the medicine for me.”

Hundreds of Iraqis have since shared the post, insisting that there are no sectarian disputes among the Iraqi people. Such disputes are fostered by the politicians, they say.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Independent Higher Electoral Commission has excluded MPs Aliya Nussaif, Sabah Al-Saidi, Sami Al-Askari and Ammar Al-Shibli from standing in the forthcoming April 30 general elections without giving any reasons.

The Higher National Body for Accountability and Justice has also barred more than 400 candidates from participating in the elections, accusing them of being either criminals or former Baathists. The excluded candidates were from different blocs.

The Iraqi parliament has also not approved the country’s 2014 budget, the parliamentary finance committee postponing approval until after the elections. MP Najeeba Najeeb, a member of the committee, was quoted as saying that “the postponement will affect the Iraqi economy,” and already many Iraqis fear that the move will delay their salaries.

As the political crises continue, Iraqis this week celebrated the win by Iraqi amateur singers participating in The Voice, a show aired by MBC. Hundreds of comments written by Iraqi viewers were subsequently recorded on social media, one saying that “the number of Iraqis who sent in SMS votes for the young singers was more than the number of voters in the last general elections.”

Iraqis want change. They know that this change can be achieved through their votes, yet there is as yet no consensus on whether they will vote or not. In the meantime, there are hopes that the elections will be as smooth and amusing as The Voice TV show.

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