Iraq went to vote today in its first post-occupation national election. The vote largelywent off smoothly, which officials attributed to security forces across the nation.
From al-Qaeda’s perspective, there was really no need to attack the polling places, however, as the vote itself is liable to be more destabilizing for the country than anything they could’ve done.
The 2010 election saw a Sunni-dominated secular bloc winning the popular vote, and the US imposing a power-sharing deal that left Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the ruler. The power-sharing never came.
This time around, many of the Sunnis didn’t even get to vote. Most of the polling stations in the Anbar Province never opened, with al-Qaeda controlling the major cities there. Resentment over seeing their election win in 2010 go for naught is likely to pale in comparison to not getting to vote at all.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki not only didn’t follow through on power-sharing, but centralized power greatly in the past few years, and it is now seen as a given that he will remain, no matter what the results of the election actually are.
The post-vote coalition negotiations are going to be difficult, with no one likely to willingly deal with Maliki after the last time, and no group likely to successfully take power without his permission.
Iraq elections: View from Baghdad's streets
Baghdad residents explain their hopes for Iraq's elections and the country's future amid a backdrop of violence.
It is Iraq's first national election since US military forces withdrew in 2011 [Reuters]
Baghdad, Iraq - Iraqis vote in parliamentary elections on Wednesday as violence across much of the country soars to levels not seen since sectarian slaughter killed tens of thousands from 2006 - 2007.
A group that didn't exist back then, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has been emboldened and enriched in its war against the government by its involvement in the conflict in neighbouring Syria - and it now holds territory just 65km from the capital, which worries many there.
In a country with almost unparalleled oil riches, there is little in the way of basic services. And the divides between Shia, Sunni and Kurd are said to have deepened since the last vote in 2010.
Even against that backdrop, current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could hold on to power, though he will face a tough election battle and, in a country with forever fractured politics, a difficult period of coalition-building if his party wins enough seats to lead the administration again.
But what of Baghdad's people? What are their hopes for the elections? And the future?
Al Jazeera spoke to some.
Dhafar Zuhair Hamed, 39, engineer, in a café in Baghdad's Mansour district
[Barry Malone/Al Jazeera]
It's too hard to make a very accurate evaluation. But I hope that a great number of Iraqis will vote in this election. As all of the people in the world know, we have a shortage of basic services, we have a problem with security, we have problems with many things. So I am optimistic that most of the Iraqi people will vote in the elections to try to determine the right government.
I think we have to forgive each other, we have to forget what happened in the past. We have to think about the next stages, not the past stages. We have to cooperate.
Some people, it's too hard for them to forget. But they have to. So that we can continue our lives.
We have great human resources here, great opportunities for investment. Also, we have a great deal of natural resources. We could be a great country.
Abu Ali, 43, works in security, in a central Baghdad restaurant
Abu Ali did not want his photograph taken for security reasons [Barry Malone/Al Jazeera]
Iraq is a very rich country and there are many clever and experienced Iraqis. But the current government didn't ask them to help with the country's development and it hasn't achieved anything to improve the situation of our country. But, during the 1990s, when Iraq was under economic sanctions, the government was able to overcome that, achieve things and distribute food to its citizens through rations because it did not want to insult them.
This government is the opposite, working to insult Iraqis through arrests, deportations, murder and not distributing wealth equally. And there is a lot of theft, extortion and bribery.
I now earn about $2,500 dollars a month. During the time of Saddam's regime, my salary was much less. But it was better then, because now, with the insecurity, I fear for my children and my family. And I fear for myself.
Awab Basim al-Bayati, 25, student, at Cafe Atraqchi
[Barry Malone/Al Jazeera]
I will participate in the elections because I want to change the politicians who are in government now. And I will vote for one of the candidates in a party that is [cross-sectarian]. There are a lot of good people in that party and I hope that could change the security situation for the better and stop the injustices happening in Anbar, and around Baghdad and Abu Ghraib.
I hope they can stop the bleeding in this country. The problem is that Iraqis are still looking for safe drinking water, electricity and basic services, which were available from the beginning.
People’s demands should be much more than that.
Issa al-Bayati, 25, civil servant, at Cafe Atraqchi
[Barry Malone/Al Jazeera]
After the fall of the former regime, Iraqis' lives became a big mess. Services became bad, we are suffering at the hands of many bad politicians and we are suffering from external interferences, such as Iran. Some areas also suffer from government neglect - in the Abu Ghraib area, one of the polling stations is flooded with water. It's sinking.
The security situation was better before, but our freedoms are better now.
Karrar Malik, 25, shop owner, in his shop in the Karrada neighbourhood
[Barry Malone/Al Jazeera]
I will vote because I want to take part in change, which I believe could help to improve the security situation and tackle the explosions, because the current government is not doing enough. I think that it must change its security plans so that the recession can end and we can do well in business. There was a bomb on this street and my colleague's cousin was killed, blown in half.
I wish I could go out with my friends and come home late. I am a young man, I should be able to live the life of a young man, but that is not possible because of a lack of security.
Um Hisham, 54, vegetable stall owner, Karrada neighbourhood
[Barry Malone/Al Jazeera]
I have not chosen who I'm going to vote for yet but I will definitely participate in the elections.
My only desire is that the security situation improves in my country. I want us to have good lives.
Ahmed Qais, 32, civil servant, outside sweet shop in Mansour area
[Barry Malone/Al Jazeera]
I think the best solution for Iraq is to have a secular government, so I will vote for secular parties. I think, if they were in power, and I could imagine Iraq after 10 years, it would be a better country.
Ann Qais, 20, student (did not want to be photographed)
Nothing will ever change in Iraq, especially in politics. So my decision is that I will not participate in these elections. There are some good politicians who want to work for the interest of the country but the bad politicians, who do not want to work for the country's interest, stop them.
We Iraqis do not want anything from them but for them to provide security. And they haven't.
With Eye on Incoming Poll Results, Iraqi Parties Mull Future Roles
Kurds in the autonomous Kurdistan region are also awaiting the outcome of the elections. Unlike people in the rest of Iraq, the Kurds cast two ballots on Wednesday, one for the Iraqi parliament and once for local councils. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - As results from Wednesday’s Iraqi parliamentary elections and Kurdish provincial councils trickle in, leaders of Arab and Kurdish parties are busy speculating about their future plans.
Osama Nujaifi, who heads the Sunni Mutahidun list, said today that his group will not form an alliance with current Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
“In the past 10 years Iraq has passed through a long era of rivalries, and now the time has come to enter an era of stability, building the state in a healthy manner with reliance on the constitution and law,” Nujaifi told Rudaw.
In response to speculations that Iraq’s Sunnis might be seeking the presidency, Nujaifi said that the subject will not be discussed until after the full election results have come out.
Since 2005, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, has been Iraq’s president. However, he has been away from the country since 2012, recovering from a stroke in Germany.
The new parliament is expected to elect a new president and prime minister.
Nujaifi and other Sunni leaders have had serious disagreements with Maliki over the past few years, often boycotting parliamentary sessions, resigning from his government and accusing him of violating the constitution.
“Our future alliance with any other bloc would depend on their work to bring stability to all of Iraq, be acceptable to all Iraqis and abide by the constitution that has been violated for a long time,” Nujaifi said.
For his part, Ali Adib, head of Maliki’s State of Law list, said it was too soon to speak of the nature of the new government. He said that, meanwhile, it was the goal of his list to win the most votes. “We will save Iraq from the bits and pieces of the many groups,” he promised.
Maliki and members of his list made the worsening security situation the main selling point of their campaign, often pointing to Sunni insurgent groups who they blame for much of the violence.
“The goal of the terrorists is to ruin the security situation and have Iraqis not participate in the political process,” said Adib. “But people’s participation in the elections was their way of confronting the violence.”
Without naming names, Adib called other political groups incompetent. “They are not able to take on responsibility,” he said.
Defying “terrorists and conspirators” in an official statement, Maliki said that he would work “to build a democratic and prosperous Iraq.”
Kurds in the autonomous Kurdistan region are also awaiting the outcome of the elections. Unlike people in the rest of Iraq, the Kurds cast two ballots on Wednesday, one for the Iraqi parliament and once for local councils.
So far, early results show that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is leading in Erbil and Duhok -- in some polling stations securing almost all the votes.
In Sulaimani, meanwhile, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Change Movement (Gorran) are both confident of winning the governorship.
However, it is believed that the PUK votes have increased in Sulaimani, allowing the party to push aside its nemesis, Gorran.
In the multiethnic city of Kirkuk, PUK supporters were already on the streets shortly after the polls closed, celebrating what they believed would be their win.
Arab Refugees in Kurdistan Defy Maliki with their Ballots
Their anger with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Shiite government had driven many refugees to Andazyiaran School to fight him back with their ballots. Photo by Judit Neurink
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region –Hundreds of miles away from home and refugees in the Kurdistan Region, many Iraqis who have fled the recent wave of violence in the western province of Anbar went to the polls on Wednesday to make sure their candidates make it to the next parliament.
Some candidates however, had already managed to disappoint some refugees.
“Do you know that one of the candidates for the Iraqi Parliament from Fallujah is offering us refugees money if we vote for him?” said Wuqas, a professor in Arabic languages from Fallujah as he stepped out of an orange Mercedes to cast his vote at ‘Polling Station Anbar 1’ outside Erbil.
Wuqas, who fled his hometown of Fallujah four months ago, claimed that the candidate had offered $200 for every five votes.
“The Sunni candidates have destroyed us,” he said. “They are not qualified for the work in the Parliament. They are only there because of their ethnic background.”
The area surrounding Andazyiaran School was littered with posters of Arab candidates hoping to win over the refugees.
The Iraqi Electoral Commission had set up special polling booths for the approximately 30,000 Arabs who have fled Ramadi and Fallujah and sought shelter in the safety of the Kurdistan Region.
Their anger with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Shiite government had driven many refugees to Andazyiaran School to fight him back with their ballots.
“We want change, we need safety,” said a lawyer from Baghdad who arrived in Kurdistan ten days ago after his uncle was killed.
“The situation in Baghdad is terrible,” he lamented. “Sunnis cannot stay there. It has got too dangerous. I really hope to see the change.”
The Baghdadi lawyer said that he sees no future for himself in Baghdad with Maliki in power. “If al-Maliki stays, I will stay in Erbil,” he said.
Baker, a translator from Fallujah went so far as to say, “If Al-Maliki gets his third term, we will get out of Iraq.”
Unlike most other refugees, Baker cast his vote with no hope of making a difference.
“I vote, but I have no hope it gets better,” he told Rudaw. “We only want to make sure our vote does not get lost.”
He described the situation in Fallujah as abysmal. He said his family home was recently flooded after insurgents had closed a dam on the nearby Euphrates River, causing a disaster as far away as Abu Ghraib, some 30 kilometers away.
Many voters said they had lost trust in their politicians while accusing the Iraqi government of employment discrimination against Sunnis, random arrests and utter marginalization.
“I don’t trust any politician anymore,” said one of Baker’s companions. “They destroyed our province Anbar.”
“They did not do anything for us in the past ten years,” he echoed Baker. “I only come here to make sure my vote is not stolen.”
The distrust shown by these voters outside the polling station seemed to disappear as soon they stepped inside and lined up patiently to reach the ballot box.
At this station there were no electronic voting machines as seen in other stations. The reason being the Arab voters weren’t registered as local residents and therefore had to contend with showing their Iraqi IDs or food coupons.
The procedure did not appear to guarantee anonymity as personal details and ballots were dropped together in the same box. Though nobody raised an issue.
To most, the process was about satisfying their ‘conscience”.
“It is important to change the persons who represent us in Parliament to improve our situation,” said Bushra, a school headmaster Fallujah.