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Analysis: In Iraq, Local Officials, Candidates Most Vulnerable

  • Kathleen Ridolfo

http://gdb.rferl.org/6D220C44-0DED-4382-9D96-7E164F493F13_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/6D220C44-0DED-4382-9D96-7E164F493F13_mw800_mh600.jpg Iraqi and U.S. troops are braced for further violence (file photo) Local government officials and candidates appear to be far and away the most vulnerable of Iraqi public officials, leading insurgents increasingly to focus their attacks on them in an effort to destabilize the security situation at a fundamental level and intimidate the local population.

Local councilors have been targeted in governorates across the country, not just in the volatile governorates of Al-Anbar (Fallujah), Ninawah (Mosul), Diyala (Ba'qubah), and Baghdad. The consequences of such targeting threaten to stifle participation in local politics by concerned Iraqi citizens who might otherwise welcome the opportunity to participate in the rebuilding of their communities.

Recent Attacks

The situation appears worse in Ninawah and Diyala, where three councilors have been killed in each governorate over the past month. Diyala has lost a total of seven councilors since April; Salah Al-Din, Babil, Baghdad, and Al-Basrah have lost at least two councilors each. In the past three months, Baghdad has lost both its governor and deputy governor to assassination. The deputy governor of Diyala was killed on 29 October after surviving a previous attempt in August. Diyala's governor has survived some 14 attempts on his life, Knight-Ridder reported on 19 January. Ninawah's governor was killed on 14 July. The Kirkuk governor escaped an assassination attempt in November. Two candidates for Al-Basrah's local governorate elections were gunned down this week. Salah Al-Din's deputy governor, governorate-council chairman, as well as a college dean were taken hostage by militants who stopped their convoy south of Baghdad on 8 January as the men were returning from meetings with Shi'ite leaders in Al-Najaf and Karbala on the Iraqi elections. They were released on 20 January.
A U.S. military spokesman told reporters at a 15 January news briefing in Mosul that the Ninawah governorate recently lost all of its election staffers.


These accounts do not include the dozens of unsuccessful attacks on local leaders, as well as kidnappings and other assorted threats lodged against these men, women, and their families. Election workers -- numbering in the thousands by one count -- have walked off the job due to death threats by insurgents living in their communities.

Electoral Precautions

U.S. Brigadier General Carter Ham told reporters at a 15 January news briefing in Mosul that the Ninawah governorate recently lost all of its election staffers (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 January 2005) adding, "At one point, there were essentially none left," according to the U.S. Defense Department's official website (http://www.defenselink.mil). He said there is a coordinator working to rebuild the Mosul staff and election staff from other parts of Iraq might be brought in on 30 January to work in polling stations. Ham contended that the polls in that governorate would be open on election day. Twelve thousand multinational forces will also be on hand in the governorate, 4,000 more than usual. He added that he expects that after 30 January, insurgents will target both the winners and losers of the governorate elections. In Al-Fallujah, Lieutenant General John Sattler said voting would be held in the Al-Anbar governorate, BBC reported on 19 January. He said that about 140,000 residents have returned to Al-Fallujah since the November offensive; there are an estimated 500,000 eligible voters in the governorate, the majority of whom are Sunni.

As with the National Assembly elections, many local candidate lists have not released the names of their candidates, and few aspirants have dared to campaign openly. In Diyala, Governor Abdullah Rashid al-Juburi debated an opponent on local television in what the American Forces Press Service called "democracy in action -- Iraqi style." The debate looked like something Americans might see on public-access television, the 18 January reported continued. The debate was held in a small studio outside Ba'qubah, while Iraqi and U.S. forces guarded the compound.

U.S. Embassy officials told the press service that some person-to-person campaigning has taken place in the governorate, which is estimated to be 45 percent Shi'a and 55 percent Sunni, but that campaigning usually takes place in small private venues, such as citizens' homes. The candidates said campaigning was difficult in the governorate, where they have taken out radio and television time, passed out fliers, and hung posters in an effort to make their party lists known.

[For news, background, and analysis on Iraq's historic 30 January elections, see RFE/RL's webpage "Iraq Votes 2005".]
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