Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Image Credit: AP

In Iraq, one expects to witness anything unimaginable under the sun. The story goes today that different political blocs have devised a way for buying votes for the upcoming governing councils elections to be held on April 20.

For a sum between $100-$200 (Dh367-Dh734) a voter is required to repeat an oath not to give his vote to any other political bloc. The oath is binding, but those who pay out bribes should know that those who receive them may not be as honest as perceived. Soon enough, some cunning religious cleric will teach them to utter the oath in a manner that could be broken. The bribe-happy political blocs and voters will soon be witnessing the third governing council elections in an extremely unstable political environment in Iraq.

Members of the police force and army have cast their votes ahead of time, with long queues formed outside polling stations across the country. Thirty nine more candidates were accepted in the updated candidates’ list for the elections, raising the number from 8,099 to 8,138 after an appeal mechanism, including going through the ‘de-Baathification’ application process. The list of revised and excluded candidates as reported by many Iraqi political blocs shows the extent of conflict among the political groups. Sadly, the Sunni provinces have had the biggest toll of exclusions, in addition to the Al Iraqiya bloc headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, who is also the arch-enemy of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.

The ace card is with Al Maliki, who is also calling for a majority government — something that will not please the majority of the political blocs in the country’s lame political process. However, it is something that will make Iraqis happy as they will know who exactly is responsible for all the corruption and failures in the country. Both Saleh Al Mutlag — who returned to the government after calling Al Maliki a dictator — and Osama Al Nujaifi have been more successful with their election pitch than Allawi’s Al Iraqiya list. The reinstatement of the top candidate of the Mutlag list in Baghdad and of the number three candidate of Al Nujayfi in Nineveh is positive news for the two men. Al Maliki only has problems with a single candidate (in Basra) who was reinstated.

While many voices in the US are not happy with the recent $130 billion (Dh478.14 billion) budget in the House because it was done in opposition to the Kurds, Al Mutlag’s return to the cabinet and his playing a vital role in the elections at a critical time for Al Maliki and the Sadrists is a good sign for the Iraqi premier who seems to be in a stronger position today. Though Al Maliki decided to run Shiite candidates in the Sunni dominated northern governorates, the chances to bridge the gap with Sunnis after the elections remain very slim as everyone witnessed in the aftermath of the 2009 elections.

Experimental period

This means Al Maliki will face challenges of bringing in Sunni and secular partners into his own State of the Law Coalition if he is serious about his political majority government. However, the significance of these provincial elections in Iraq is that they are taking place after the US military withdrawal from the country in December 2011. That is why many Iraqis know that it is a dangerous transitional and experimental period. The acid test will be to see how sincere the efforts of competing political blocs are in a peaceful delineation of authority and the extent of their acceptance to step over sectarianism and ethnicity that are tearing the country apart.

The elections will not pass without some major attacks taking place as all Iraqis are now accustomed to violence during every major political event in the country. But the true risk and danger lies in the days after the elections. No doubt the political process in the country today is facing serious challenges. The country is on the verge of a split.

Moreover, Al Maliki has accused most Iraqi politicians of terrorism on state television and announced that he has files against them. His reason for not publicising the contents of those files is because he is keen on preserving the political process in the country, which effectively means that he will be using these files after the elections.

Even the Shiite Iraqi National Alliance, which Al Maliki’s coalition is a part of, is suffering alienation and marginalisation from Al Maliki himself, angering many of them and threatening a serious collapse in the future.

Al Maliki is also trying to mend his relations with the Kurds, but these efforts will be forgotten as soon as he wins the elections — if that happens that is. He is also said to have promised the Turks great business opportunities in the country if they stop tampering with Iraq’s internal affairs at this very delicate time. Needless to say, these weapons will be used after the elections by all those who are keen on ruling the oil-rich but highly impoverished and corruption-ridden country.