Iraq is going to the polls on Wednesday, which is the country’s first election since the final US troops pulled out of the country two and a half years ago. Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki is bidding for a third term. Maliki is contesting the election in a weaker position this time compared to the previous one. His rivals are accusing him of presiding over the decline of Iraq, of stoking sectarian divides and dismantling its hard-fought democracy. These charges are not unfounded. Sectarian tensions are at its worst today and a wave of deadly violence has made daily life miserable. But the worst blemish on Maliki’s record is the jihadist takeover of Fallujah and the greater Anbar province. Much of the Anbar region is beyond the authority of the central government and is firmly controlled by the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Iraq’s security forces, trained by the United States at a cost of billions of dollars, have been unable to dislodge the militants.
It’s unfortunate that the elections are being held when the country is reeling under sectarianism and militancy. Ever since the elections were announced, militants have been working overtime to sabotage the process with daily bombings and violence that have killed hundreds of people. At least 24 people were killed in attacks yesterday, which came a day after 64 were died in a nationwide spate of blasts. How can the elections be held in an atmosphere of fear and violence? Will the security forces be able to protect more than twenty million people who are eligible to vote?
According to reports, no party is expected to win a majority in the election. The unpredictability of Iraqi politics was underlined in the last elections four years ago, when the political bloc that won the greatest share of the vote lost the premiership to Maliki in the political horse-trading that followed. Maliki is expected to retain power through any means and he has unrivaled power and resources behind him to help him cling on.
Maliki has missed a golden opportunity to build a modern Iraq after the exit of the US forces. His biggest failure has been his inability to bring together the two dominant sectarian groups, Shias and Sunnis, which has caused the current rounds of bloodshed. As a prime minister and a Shia, he is not known for fairness and impartiality on sectarian issues. Critics say the heavy-handed treatment of minority Sunnis by his government has contributed to the unrest.
Iraq has an uncertain future and this week’s elections are unlikely to make a difference. More than the elections, Maliki can contribute more to bring stability and peace to the country.