First guns, then ballots

"First guns, then ballots" Continued...

Issue: "Fighting poverty," March 13, 2010

Nineveh's biggest electoral battle will be between Kurds-who took control of the provincial council after Sunnis boycotted national elections in 2005 until 2009-and Sunnis, who form the region's majority. In recent years Kurdish leaders have gained loyalty among the historically Christian villages surrounding Mosul-chiefly because Kurdish security forces called pesh merga have provided security in those areas and the Kurdish Regional Government has built schools and other facilities there-while Sunni influence, and a militant Sunni faction called al-Hadba that formed last year to defeat the Kurds, have gained power within the city of Mosul itself.

Sunni potency at the polls is in question following one Sunni party's call Feb. 20 for a boycott of the election after two of its leaders were disqualified from participation over alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. When Sunnis boycotted the polls in 2005, it led to some of the worst sectarian fighting of the war.

In Mosul some Christians are thinking less about their right to vote and more about their safety. "We don't want elections, we don't want representatives, we don't want our rights, we just want to be alive," said Baasil Abdul Noor, a priest at Mar Behnam church.

Another priest told me that right now it's harder to press authorities to track down and take action against the militants who are killing Christians: "In time of election it's easier to mix the cards, to accuse others. The Arab groups will accuse Kurds and the Kurds will accuse Arabs, but at the end of the day we are the losers."

Given U.S. military presence, is there more the United States could do? Said Open Doors' Moeller, who spoke to me by phone from his Irvine, Calif., office but has traveled to northern Iraq and spent this past Christmas in Jordan with Iraqi refugees: "The question is being answered on the ground as 'no.' Our intention to leave Iraq is overriding our better nature. We are tired of war and have announced our intent to leave this year; but unfortunately that will mean for Iraqi Christians utter devastation."

In Mosul, Christians believe that's already the case.

Remember the purple ink

Timeline of elections

Jan. 30, 2005: Iraq holds democratic elections, drawing an estimated 8 million voters who pick representatives for the transitional National Assembly.

Oct. 15, 2005: Iraqis vote to approve the nation's new constitution.

Dec. 15, 2005: Iraqis elect a permanent 275-member Council of Representatives, or parliament, the first full-term government since the U.S.-led invasion.

Jan. 10, 2007: President George W. Bush announces the troop surge-a plan to combat sectarian violence by deploying thousands of additional U.S. troops to Iraq.

Jan. 31, 2009: Iraq holds provincial elections.

Feb. 27, 2009: President Barack Obama announces he will withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq by August 2010 and all remaining combat troops by the end of 2011.

July 25, 2009: The Kurdistan region of Iraq holds parliamentary and presidential elections.

March 7, 2010: Iraq holds parliamentary elections to select representatives for the 325-member Council of Representatives.
-with reporting by Kristin Chapman


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