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Iraqi Elections Incite Tension, Violence, and Long-Term Uncertainty
WASHINGTON - March 4 - Peace Action, the largest grassroots peace group in the United States, has grave concerns about the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections. Scheduled for Sunday, March 7, the elections will select the 325 member of the Iraqi parliament, who will later choose the prime minister. Despite these concerns, the group warns that the Obama administration should not delay plans to remove all combat troops and end combat operations by the end of August.
"The pre-election climate in Iraq began to deteriorate early this year when an Iraqi governmental commission - with close ties to Ahmad Al-Chalabi - banned 511 opposition political candidates from running for a seat in parliament," explains Peace Action Policy and Political Director Paul Kawika Martin.
Although the ban was overturned by an appeals court, the Iraqi Prime Minister went ahead with the bans. Iraq has become increasingly tense in the lead-up to the election, with increased incidents of violence. Most political coalitions still intend to participate in the vote, but the likelihood of the election being widely perceived as open and fair is diminishing.
"The Iraqi prime minister defied a ruling by the Iraqi Supreme Court that the bans should be postponed until after the election, which exacerbated the problem," notes Peace Action Senior Fellow Raed Jarrar. "The step is viewed by many Iraqis as another example of the ongoing political persecution exercised by the ruling parties."
Early this year, the Iraqi election was seen as a comfortable win for Maliki's party, the State of Law coalition, with the new parliament expected to be less plagued by sectarian divisions. The attempted disqualification of opposition candidates fouled the air, however, angering both Shiites and Sunnis. In addition, Iraqis still face poverty, government corruption, and a lack of basic services, and the increased violence in Iraq this year is undermining Maliki's claims of improved stability.
"The level of violence in February was double that in January," adds Martin. "And dozens were killed Wednesday in suicide bombings targeting government facilities and even a hospital."
At this count, Maliki's State of Law is not guaranteed to get the most votes in the election. Consequently, Maliki's future - and the post-election stability of the country -rests on a number of uncertainties, from acceptance of the election results by Iraqis and Maliki's ability to form coalitions, to the continued and contentious departure of American combat troops.
"Iraq's troubles are not limited to the flawed electoral process," Jarrar points out. "Iraq still lacks the fundamental components of a functional government. Basic services - such as water, electricity, healthcare, and education - are dysfunctional, and the Iraqi armed forces are still infiltrated by militias and controlled by the current ruling parties. Even if the Iraqi elections were to be fair, transparent, and inclusive there is still doubt that Iraq could manage to transfer power to a new, democratically elected government without the threat of a military coup or a total political meltdown."
"Americans elected President Obama partly to bring the troops home from Iraq. The public still supports those goals. The U.S. needs to continue its plans to remove combat forces by the end of August bringing the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq to less than 50,000, with complete withdrawal that leaves no troops, contractors, or bases behind by the end of 2011 or sooner," concluded Jarrar.