Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Iraq Prepares for National Elections

By ISW Iraq Team 

Iraq’s 2014 national elections are underway. Over the weekend, Iraqi voters residing abroad cast their votes in 19 countries. On April 28, members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), displaced citizens, prisoners, and hospitalized individuals voted in a process known as “special voting.” Over 800,000 voters cast their votes, representing a 91.46% turnout that was described by the elections commission, IHEC, as “surprising.” The turnout varied among different provinces, with Qadesiyah in southern Iraq registering the highest rate of 93% and Anbar being the lowest at 40%. The general public is scheduled to vote on Wednesday, April 30.

ISF preparations 

The special voting was carried out under heightened security measures especially in Baghdad, Ninewa, and Anbar, and curfews were imposed in Ninewa and Anbar. 

In Baghdad on April 27, Baghdad Operation Command (BOC) announced that the entrances and exits of Baghdad will be closed from 10 pm on April 29, 2014 in addition to imposing a general curfew. They did not provide an end date. The day before, the Council of Ministers announced that official work will be suspended in all provinces (excluding the KRG) for a week starting Sunday, citing a request by IHEC. Also, a captain from the Counter Terrorism Forces (CTF) stated that the CTF will be the security body securing the elections and that forces of the unit started setting up temporary checkpoints in areas of Yarmouk and Hay al-Jamia in western Baghdad. 

Additionally, the Civil Aviation Authority announced in a statement that Iraqi air space was closed as of noon on Monday until 6 pm on April 30, 2014. In Ninewa, a general curfew was imposed on Sunday but was lifted on Monday after the ballots were closed. Also, the commander of the Ninewa Operations Command, General Mahdi al-Gharawi held a security meeting with commanders of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and IHEC personnel in which the attendees agreed to provide buses to transport voters from their areas to polling stations. A curfew was also imposed in Anbar until further notice. These security measures are enduring characteristics of Iraqi elections days. Nonetheless, Ninewa and Anbar are two of the most unstable provinces in Iraq today. 

Targeting of the electoral infrastructure

The special voting day was targeted by incidents of violence. At least six attacks carried out mostly using explosive Suicide Vests (SVEST) targeted members of the ISF as they cast their votes. The attacks resulted in the death of at least 24 individuals and the injury of at least 59 others. In Baghdad, an attacker wearing an Iraqi Army (IA) uniform and an SVEST targeted a polling station in Adhamiyah, northern Baghdad killing seven members of the Iraqi Police (IP) and wounding 21 others. Also, an attacker with IP uniform and an SVEST targeted a polling station in Mansour, west central Baghdad killing six members of the IP and injuring 19 others. 

In Tuz Khurmatu, a similar attack resulted in the death of four individuals and the injury of 11 others. Meanwhile, southern Kirkuk witnessed an SVEST attack on a polling station that left six IP members dead and nine others wounded. In central Mosul, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that was followed by an SVEST attack resulted in the injury of five IP members. In Dandan neighborhood of central Mosul, an SVEST attack targeted a security checkpoint near a polling station leaving three members of the ISF injured. In Huz, southwestern Ramadi, members of the IA clashed with three attackers with SVESTs who attempted to target a polling station, killing all three attackers with no reported causalities among the ISF or civilians. 

Additionally, an IED targeted an IP patrol as it was heading to a polling station in Habbaniyah, east of Ramadi. The detonation resulted in the death of two IP members while five others were wounded. Voters were not the only targets. In Mosul, an IED detonated on a bus that carried media reporters covering the elections in the area of Arabi neighborhood which resulted in the injury of six reporters. In Hawija, west of Kirkuk, an attacker with an SVEST and military uniform attempted to storm a polling station but he was tackled by an IA soldier. The attacker detonated his SVEST killing both.

The most casualty-producing attack took place in Khanaqin in which an attacker with an SVEST targeted a gathering of people who were celebrating the appearance of the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani on TV as he was casting his vote in Germany. The attack took place in front of the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in central Khanaqin, north of Baquba and resulted in the death of 28 individuals and injured 60 others.

Allegation of fraud and violations

Two election day irregularities allegations were reported. The first was in Baghdad with regard to the voting of prisoners of the Shaab Tasfirat Prison and the second concerned Anbar refugees in Sulaimaniya. An elections observer in Sulaimaniya, Younis Jasim, stated that most Anbaris in the province did not vote today. He added that the displaced Anbaris were previously notified that they would vote on April, 30th but were only later notified that they were scheduled to vote early. 

Also, an anonymous observer stated that the administration of Shaab Tasfirat prisons in Baghdad prevented the observers from entering the prison. The source added that the administration pressured and physically assaulted the prisoners to vote “for a certain political party” and that there were 200 prisoners and guards inside the prison “who are voting without the voter cards.” Concerns regarding fraud in prisons were echoed by member of the CoR and the Sadrist Trend Hakim al-Zamili, who stated that the several prisons witnessed violations and that IHEC was notified and that necessary procedures will be taken.

Tamuz Organization, a body monitoring the elections, reported that a member of the Da‘wa Party was distributing money and phone cards to voters, apparently in an attempt to influence the voters’ choice. In Najaf, the organization reported that the director of the polling station accompanied the voters in the voting booth. Also, in Baghdad, a Colonel in the IP “educated” the voters to vote for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance. 

Implications for the General Elections

The targeting of the polling sites described above is an indicator that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) will likely attempt to carry out more attacks tomorrow against polling stations in order to disrupt the elections. ISIS attacks will primarily take place in areas that are predominately Iraqi Sunni such as Anbar and Ninewa. ISIS will also carry out attacks in other areas where it control terrain or has freedom of movement and attack such as Baghdad and Diyala. ISF measures have proven effective in past elections to prevent mass attacks, but ISF capabilities will be tested tomorrow given its over 4-month engagement in the ongoing crisis in Anbar and the fact that ISIS and other insurgency groups have in some case been able to outmaneuver the exhausted ISF.

Iraqi Shi’a militias and organizations such as Asai’b Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Organization, and the Sadrist Trend are competing in the elections and it will be important to watch if they decide to mobilize their militant members tomorrow to influence voters. The irregularities reported on the special voting day have not generated controversy and that is a good sign. Nonetheless, any appearance of pressure on voters or wide pressure on political party observers will diminish the legitimacy of the elections. 

The voting tomorrow will be logistically more challenging and therefore the performance of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) will be under scrutiny. A free, fair, and transparent elections day will be an important start to set the stage for a lengthy government-formation process.