Fear keeps candidates under wraps

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 12:00am

Names of some are kept secret lest they are assassinated

Iraqis head to the polls soon but as yet they do not know who the candidates are.

Most people say they will vote but the election commission has refused to release the full list of candidates for fear of leaving them open to assassination.

Many candidates have not been campaigning for the same reason.

The election is being held in a climate of fear, with the threat of boycotts by major parties further muddying the picture.

The election commission yesterday refused to say how many poll workers had quit or been killed but said the election would continue as planned.

Voter registration is taking place through the same shops that distribute rations.

'No one has come to threaten me, but they have killed agents and bombed their houses and their shops,' said Nahudth Hathayer, an agent in the affluent Jadriyah district in west Baghdad, which is well patrolled by US troops.

Insurgents have already issued threats to attack polling stations on January 30, but perhaps the biggest problem with the election is the expected boycott by most of the country's Sunni population.

But the boycott is not exclusively Sunni.

Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has until now refused to issue a statement condemning the election and has given his tacit support to a slate of candidates who are also members of his organisation.

But he said last week he would 'not participate officially in the election because there is no real representation for all groups and because there is a Sunni boycott. It won't be a free and honest election under occupation. We want the United Nations to supervise the election.'

Wamidh Nadhmi is the former dean of political science at Baghdad University and a member of the Iraqi National Conference, a non-sectarian political party led by Jewad al-Khalasy, a Shi'ite cleric.

The party decided to boycott the election because a list of conditions they submitted to the election commission - which included a withdrawal of US troops from inside cities and greater international monitoring of the election - had not been met.

'If you take the so-called Sunni areas as a total boycott, and then the Sadr group, it might come to a 70 per cent or 65 per cent boycott,' Mr Nadhmi said.

The two main parties, the United Iraqi Alliance - a conglomeration of former exiles - and Prime Minister Iyad Alawi's Iraqi List, are expected to fare best.

The alliance is the most visible party, using the Supreme Council's militant wing, the Badr Brigade, to put up posters.

The posters bear the image of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's politically reticent senior Shi'ite cleric.

'They claim they are supported by Sistani, but a lot of Shi'ite clerics say it is impossible Sistani would approve one list,' Mr Nadhmi said.

Many Iraqis still say they will vote but it remains uncertain whether they will be scared away from polls by election-day attacks.