BAGHDAD - Insults and accusations are flying in Baghdad in the days leading up to Thursday's national election.
The political battle is being fought in the mosques, on the streets and in the news media, sometimes with appeals to sect loyalty and other times with rough tactics. Iraqis on Thursday will choose members of parliament for four-year terms, ending another period in their transition since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
There have been more than 100 allegations of violations of campaign rules submitted to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. Most concern the illegal use of religious symbols and the destruction of campaign posters, which are pasted on every piece of wall space in the capital, including high concrete blast walls.
In at least two separate incidents over the past two weeks, men hanging United Iraqi Alliance posters were shot at, and one was killed.
There were accusations among Shiites in the Baghdad neighborhood Hai al Amil that Iraqi forces ripped down the posters of the United Iraqi Alliance, a religious Shiite group, last week. The next day in revenge, Shiite residents reportedly tore away posters for the Sunni Iraqi Accord.
In Sadr City, a poor Shiite neighborhood controlled by the Shiite Mahdi army, posters showed candidate Ayad Allawi's face morphed with Saddam Hussein's. "Baathist," the poster said. Allawi, the former prime minister, is a secular Shiite and former Baath member who broke with Saddam. Those opposed to him include candidates who are religious Shiites.
The police tore down many of Allawi's posters, said his spokesman, Thaer al-Nakib. The candidate's supporters last week showed reporters a video of officers ripping down the posters in the dark of night.
Members of Allawi's group have submitted the most allegations of campaign violations.
Allawi's billboards and posters have been splashed with black paint or covered in mud.
"It's not fair and what they are doing is not democracy," al-Nakib said, referring to the current government. "I think they need to learn how to run a campaign and how to deal with the competition."
During the last Friday prayers at Shiite and Sunni mosques before the election, politics invaded the pulpit.
At Umm al-Qurra, the headquarters of the Muslim Scholars Association in Baghdad, Sheikh Ali al-Zind told people to cast a ballot for the Iraqi Accord, an alliance of three major Sunni parties.
"This coming Thursday will be the final battle. Either we will be something or we will be nothing. We will either be marginalized or beaten and the arresting and killing will continue.
"This is the last call ... Go and vote in the elections and give your voices to the clean hands (the Iraqi Accord's slogan)."
In central Baghdad at the Shiite Muslim Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's mosque, another party was blessed.
"The elections are not worldly affairs. It is a divine mission. It tests your faith and credibility of your faith. . . . Whatever they do, whether they blew us up ... or tear up our posters in Hai al Amil. Whatever terrible thing they do, cannot intimidate us and we will never succumb. The light of the candle (the slogan of the United Iraqi Alliance) will never go out," said Jalaledin Saghir, the Shiite cleric at the Baratha mosque.
The United Iraqi Alliance tells religious Shiites to vote for its candidates by using a picture of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top marja, or Shiite spiritual leader, in Iraq. Al-Sistani has not endorsed an electoral list, but has called on people to vote for a religious and strong party.
Some politicians used words like Baathist, to imply a link to deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, or Saffawid, the name of the Persian empire, implying that candidates from the Shiite religious United Iraqi Alliance were linked to neighboring Iran.
Allawi's photo on his campaign posters shows him with a smirk that some Iraqis joke looks more like he's promoting a music album rather than an electoral slate. His slogan is "Strong government. Secured land. Prosperous country."
Ahmed Nasir, who has an electronics store in Baghdad, watches out his store window as one person puts up posters and another tears them down.
"The political parties, they are behind all these political games," he said "We are practicing democracy for the first time so we cannot blame those who make mistakes - we should give them more time."
Fadel reports for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Mohammed al Awsy contributed to this report.
© Knight Ridder 2005