As Iraq prepares for the first democratic elections held in nearly half a decade, increasing violence threatens the safety and success of the process. In a country without an atmosphere of democracy, this election will prove momentous to the structure of a new Iraq.
In addition to the election organizations taking place within Iraq, the United States along with 13 other countries are permitting Iraqi expatriates to vote, which will pose added security threats and require additional regulation.
In Illinois, the International Organization for Migration, a group which helps Iraqis register for the election, was asked to relocate their offices.
Niles Village Manager Mary Kay Morrissey said officials were worried they could not adequately protect the offices. She added that the organization did not have all of the necessary zoning permits to operate out of the building, according to the Washington Post.
Within the United States, registration began last week and concluded this Monday in several major cities across the country: Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Washington, Nashville, Tenn., and other metropolitan areas.
Despite the impending violence, Iraqi forces will provide most of the security on election day. US forces will remain on standby only in case the Iraqis run into trouble and all foreign monitors will remain in Jordan for the day. The US insists that elections will take place even in the most violent regions under their control including Falluja.
In many areas of Iraq, the specific location of the polling stations will be kept secret until the last second in order to make planned attacks more difficult and for three days surround the election, the Iraq boarders will be closed. Election officials have expressed concern as how to protect large numbers of people as they gather to vote or stand in line.
In addition to bloodshed that has become an every day occurrence, several influential leaders are speaking out against an election, calling on additional acts of violence in an effort to obstruct democracy.
On Sunday wanted Jordanian militant, Abu Musab Zarqawi, declared a “fierce war” on democracy and condemned candidates running in the elections calling them “demi-idols” while describing those who plan on voting as “infidels,” according to the Washington Post.
In opposition to Zarqawi and other militant leaders, several religious figures refer to voting as a religious duty, directing listeners toward specific beliefs. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, commands followers to vote for list no. 169 which is the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of powerful Shiite clerics and parties known as “No. 169.”
Iraqis will not merely be participating in the election process, they will be voting on the 275 members of a new national assembly who will ultimately draft and approve a new constitution.