by Kathleen Ridolfo
Members of the Iraqi Electoral Commission have reportedly been resigning in large numbers in recent weeks under the threat of attack by militants, according to Iraqi and other Arab media reports.
Earlier this week, militants in Baqouba kidnapped the head of a polling station in the city, located about 65 kilometers north of Baghdad, warning Ahmad Sulayman Wahhab not to participate in the January 30 elections, Al-Arabiyah television reported on January 5. The news channel said that gunmen have also distributed leaflets throughout the city warning citizens against promoting or participating in the election process in the city.
Muhammad Shahran, the head of the commission's Bayji branch, announced three days earlier that the commission's 12 members in the city have resigned en masse after some of its members received death threats, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on January 2. Bayji is located some 180 kilometers north of Baghdad. Two members of the commission reportedly tendered their resignation two months ago. Shahran declined to give details about the threats.
Two voter registration centers in Tikrit came under mortar attack on January 2. The registration centers, located on school grounds, were attacked in the early morning hours, Al-Sharqiyah reported. An Education Ministry source told the news channel that the buildings sustained major damage and many voter-registration documents were destroyed.
Some 700 employees of the commission working in the Ninawah Governorate, which includes the city of Mosul, purportedly resigned in late December. Some staffers said they were threatened by insurgents, while others said their resignations were in support of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group that withdrew its participation in the elections, Al-Jazeera reported on December 30. It is unclear how many of the staffers were under threat.
It is not surprising that insurgents have increasingly set their sights on individuals involved in the electoral process. After all, with little to no security provisions in place, polling personnel are easy targets. An unsigned directive posted to a jihadist website in early January advised militants in Iraq to "prevent the continuation of participation by any members of the election committees through persuasion, threats, kidnapping, and other methods." It continued: "Make sure that once they agree to withdraw from the election committee, their withdrawal is not announced except during the critical and narrow time frame [so that] the government cannot replace them with other [workers].... This will make it extremely difficult to find trained people to manage the elections in such a short period of time."
The directive also instructs fighters to attack polling stations in the immediate days leading up to the election and "seize all documents, voter lists, and boxes." It further advises attacks on polling stations throughout the day on January 30 and says that polling stations not attacked on that day should be targeted as the votes are being counted. Vehicles transporting ballot boxes after the election should also be targeted, since "no election can succeed if votes are missing."
Three militant groups, the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, the Mujahedin Army, and the Islamic Army of Iraq posted a joint statement to the Ansar Al-Sunnah website on December 30 threatening anyone associated with the elections, stating: "The hands of the mujahedin will reach the election centers, workers, and participants, God willing." The statement carried a number of Koranic verses and posited that any government not ruled by divine law would be in contradiction of the religion of God. The statement referred to Iraqi elections as "the comedy of democracy and elections," adding: "Those who participate in this filthy comedy will not be safe from the attacks of this nation's vanguards and its sharp swords, who taught and are still teaching the enemies of God and their [cohorts] valuable lessons."
Iraqi officials have provided little information on the planned security precautions for election day. However, the Defense Ministry said in mid-December that it has established a three-tiered security system that would protect voters and polling stations. Police and Iraqi security forces would be involved in the plan, which would impose security cordons around the polling stations and prevent cars from approaching them. National Guardsmen will also be setting up makeshift checkpoints around the cities and deploying armored personnel carriers on the streets, Iraqi media reported. Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on January 6 that the Electoral Commission has announced that due to the unique security situation in the Al-Anbar and Ninawah Governorates, voters who were unable to register to vote during the allotted period in December will be allowed to register and vote on the same day when elections are held on January 30. The commission added that some registration forms were lost in the governorates due to attacks in which records were burned. Extra polling personnel will be on hand in those governorates on election day to facilitate registration and voting.
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