Sunnis vote to retain voice in Iraq
|Tuesday, March 9,2010 18:54|
|By Anthony Shadid|
In the town, nicknamed the City of Mosques, the loudspeakers of muezzins that once preached resistance to the American occupation implored Sunni Arabs to defy bombs and vote Sunday.
The droves of Sunni Arab residents casting ballots in towns like Fallujah promised to redraw Iraq’s political landscape. The turnout delivered Sunnis their most articulated voice yet on the national stage, seven years after the American-led invasion ended their dominance.
The demands of Sunni voters, from securing the presidency for a Sunni to diluting Iran’s influence, could make the already formidable task in Iraq of forming a coalition government even more difficult.
At polling stations near cratered buildings, past blast walls that still bore the pockmarks of bullets, the sentiments of voters who largely boycotted Iraq’s national elections in 2005 illustrated that divide.
Even as many cast ballots for the slate of Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and former prime minister, they condemned religious Shiite parties. With the invective once reserved for Americans, voters now attacked Iran, seen here as the patron of Iraq’s Shiite-led government.
“We have an American occupation and an Iranian administration.”
A civil defense worker, Raad Mustafa, shouted, “We have to save our country.”
Ammar Ali, a police officer, interrupted them.
“We don’t want the politicians who spend the night in Iran.”
In a day of remarkable images, none may have been more startling than those in Anbar Province, where just 3,375 people voted in January 2005, out of fear of insurgent threats or in protest of the occupation. People often cast the boycott then as a matter of survival, refusal to participate in an order that disenfranchised them. Similar words in another context were heard Sunday; failure to vote would amount to surrender.
“I voted for the sake of the generations to come,” said Yunus Adel, 22, a student. “
In another neighborhood, Mohammed Hatem walked past Martyrs School where, on April 28, 2003, American soldiers, saying they had been shot at, fired on a protest and killed 15 people, a seminal moment in unleashing an insurgency that would not end for five years. The school, on this day, was a polling station.
“The memories remain,” Mr. Hatem said. “But if you have the right, you have to exercise it.”
Voters in the Jolan neighborhood, the scene of some of the most intense fighting in 2004, barely flinched at blasts, which killed no one. Mosques that once served as refuge for insurgents blared messages imploring voters to defy the bombings.
Politics in Anbar are not for the faint-hearted. They tend toward the nasty, brutish and loud, where even nuances are conveyed as shouts. The governor lost his hand in an attack in December. A candidate near Fallujah talked of the 11 attempts on his life as he might about car wrecks.
Since 2009, the province’s other currents — neo-Baathist and tribal — have rallied around lists loyal to Mr. Allawi and Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, another secular Shiite.
“Everyone in Anbar — no, in Iraq — knows that the Islamic Party is lying,” said Sheik Aiffan Saadoun al-Aiffan, a tribal leader and candidate on Mr. Bolani’s list. “They deal with Iran, they steal money and they’ve lost the support of the people.”
Mr. Aiffan called the surrender “of even an inch of territory” in the border disputes with Kurds a sacrilege.
“We can vote for what’s right, who’s good. We’ll make the right choices.”
Even before the voting ended, politicians and voters speculated about the fragility of coalitions, in particular Mr. Allawi’s, which seemed to enjoy a groundswell of support as the one force that could counter Iraq’s religious Shiite parties. Some speculated that Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi’s candidates might leave it and return to the Iraqi Islamic Party, from which they split.
Others wondered whether Mr. Allawi, with his reputation for high-handedness, could keep the loyalty of emerging Sunni figures like Saleh al-Mutlaq, a member of Parliament banned from the election for ties to the Baath Party, and Rafea al-Issawi, a deputy prime minister who hails from one of Anbar’s biggest tribes.
“We won’t have a war, but it will be a conflict,” predicted Mohammed Zaal, an engineer in Fallujah. “It will be a political conflict of Sunni against Sunni and Shiite against Shiite.
“I’m still optimistic,” he added, “but even in the civil war, I was optimistic.”