Bitter Sunnis will vote with their feet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 12:00am

Many minority Muslims see the polls as illegitimate and will not take part

Khaled Dulaymi's spacious house is dark and cold. He lost his job in the information ministry when the Americans arrived last year, and has been having a tough time as a repairman of generators getting money to buy black-market kerosene and electricity.

His politeness masks a simmering rage. Like many members of the Sunni Arab minority he says he will not vote in Sunday's elections.

'Many people thought when the Americans came they would change it into heaven,' said the 40-year-old as he served tea.

'But now people say it would have been better if they had left us with Saddam Hussein. I see all the political parties and they're just empty. All of them are from outside Iraq. None of them have honour.'

Though Iraq's Shi'ites and Kurds generally look forward to the election as a way to assert political muscle, Sunni Arabs harbour deep bitterness about Iraq and their future place in it.

As many as 200,000 have either joined the insurgency or support it, according to the country's director of intelligence.

Sunni Arabs generally prospered under the reign of Hussein, and fear a loss of power and prestige under a government dominated by Shi'ites and Kurds. But Hathem Mukhlis, Sunni Arab leader of the Iraqi National Movement, said loss of power is not the only thing fuelling their apathy.

'All the uprisings and coups against Saddam came from Sunni areas,' he said. 'They were all Iraqis under pressure from Saddam and they revolted. Now they're under pressure from Americans and they're revolting.'

The Muslim Scholars Association, a group of Sunni Arab clerics with Islamic fundamentalist overtones, has called for a boycott of the elections. The Iraqi Islamic Party, the Iraqi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has withdrawn.

'What we have here is the Sunni political leadership understanding that they're not going to get a lot of votes, so they don't have a lot of incentive to take part in the elections,' said Sharif Ali bin Hussein, leader of the Constitutional Monarchy Party, which claims to represent Sunni Arabs.

About half of Iraq's Sunni Arabs say they will vote, far fewer than the 80 to 90 per cent of Shi'ites and Kurds who will vote, according to a survey by a think-tank with ties to the US Republican Party.

But because of security concerns, the survey was not conducted in the most volatile Sunni Arab provinces, so the actual number may be smaller.

Among many ordinary Sunnis the mood is defiant.

'Let them have their elections and win,' said one Sunni Arab engineer.

'It will be an illegitimate government. Legitimate elections cannot be held because the previous government has not yet stepped down. I voted for Saddam. When he says he has resigned, I'll take part in elections.'

Even more moderate Sunni Arabs say now is not the time for an election.

'I don't think it's a good step forward,' said Iyad Adib, a primary school teacher in Baghdad.We need more stability to make this step. If the world accepted this election it will be a disaster.'