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Iraqi Election Pits Siblings Against Each Other

A campaign poster for Haifa al-Ameen, a communist female candidate in Iraq's parliamentary election who has sparked controversy by shunning the hijab
One family. Two siblings. Two rival candidates. That's the predicament facing the al-Ameen family in Iraq as the country prepares for its first general election since the U.S. withdrawal in late 2011.

The Ameens are a microcosm of the divided electorate in Iraq, where a prolonged political crisis and surge in violence has pitted many ethnic and sectarian groups -- and even families -- against one another.

Haifa and Haider al-Ameen are polar opposites, politically, and have taken sibling rivalry to new heights by joining more than 9,000 candidates vying for seats in Iraq's 328-member parliament on April 30.

Haifa is a communist female candidate who has sparked controversy by shunning the hijab. Her brother, Haider, is a proponent of political Islam. And they are running for the same seat in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

"My political activity and my leftist, liberal views have led me to join this [political] alliance," says Haifa, who defends her decision not to wear the hijab. "I have been straightforward; they told me that they accept me as I am."

While some in Nasiriyah have supported her stance, others in the religious and conservative country have expressed their opposition to a nonhijab wearing woman.

"Women without the hijab are a phenomenon to be rejected because we are part of the Islamic 'street' and we want the campaigning to preserve Islamic values and the teachings of Islam," said one Nasiriyah resident on condition of anonymity.

Haider says he respects his sister's political opinions and welcomes the starkly different views within the household. In fact, the siblings have agreed to vote for each other.

"I'm happy that my sister has entered [on behalf of] the Communist Party, representing the democracy movement, while I have entered with a bloc that I feel represents me," says Haider.

"I don't feel that this has harmed the family or our society in any way. We both agreed during a sit-down session at home that I would give her my vote and she would give me hers, in order to show everyone that competition [is secondary to] the spirit of sibling love."

Haifa admits she has tried to convince her brother to change his Islamist views, but says he has remained steadfast.

"I had hoped that Haider would enter [the elections] alongside me in the Civil Democratic Alliance, but in the end I respect his choice and his wishes," she says.

As Iraq's 22 million registered voters prepare to go to the polls, the country is experiencing a surge in violence. The vote also takes place with Iraqis frustrated over poor basic services, rampant corruption, and high unemployment.