Year in Review 2005 - Iraqis go to the polls

Strengthening democracy and the formation of a new government was the focus of humanitarian events in Iraq in 2005.

The year started with the landmark January elections for the transitional Iraqi national assembly, where 60 percent of an eligible 14 million voters cast ballots, according to government officials. This paved the way for a Shi'ite government, the first in 50 years.

Results showed 141, of the 275 seats, were won by the Shi'ite United Iraq Alliance; 75 by the Kurdistan Alliance; 40 to former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's National Iraqi List; and 5 to interim President Ghazi Yawar’s independent list. The remaining 14 went to minority groups.

The Sunnis, who previously formed the government under Saddam Hussein, boycotted the January election and lost out on seats.

"Sunnis are against US occupation because their time [US forces] in our country has ended and it is time for us, Iraqis, to decide our future. Boycotting the January election was a way to show our indignation to the occupation," Adnan al- Dulaimi, leader of the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front said.

"The political process started out highly problematic with the exclusion of Sunni Arabs in the January election," Middle East analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, Joost Hiltermann said from Amman, Jordan.

Nevertheless Iraqi officials hailed the start of the political process in 2005, given the circumstances.

"The preparation and the process of guaranteeing Iraqis a vote since January has been difficult, due to security issues. But despite these huge challenges, we achieved our objective and managed to hold the follow up election in December," Farid Ayar, spokesperson for the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq (IECI), noted.

"These were sectarian results, the Shi’ites were victorious and the Sunni’s absent and not represented – this was a stage of a very problematic political process," he added.

The Shi'ite majority appointed Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister and, for the first time, the Kurds joined the government with President Jalal Talabani.

During Hussein's rule, the Kurds ran their own affairs from the north, independent from Baghdad.

"The Sunnis should have participated and therefore there was no proportional representation," Hiltermann said, adding that: "Everything was done in a hurry to accommodate the US agenda."

The main political parties in the country are the Shi’ite United Iraqi Alliance, the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front and the Kurdish Alliance.

Constitution Referendum

Another milestone was marked on 15 October, when a much disputed constitution was voted on by the country.

Once again there was heavy Sunni opposition due to sticking points such as federalism in favour of the Kurds and a ban on ex-members of the Baath party returning to the new Iraqi government. The distribution of natural resources, namely oil was also problematic. Iraq is home to the second largest oil, reserves in the world.

In the end, the constitution was approved by nearly 70 percent of votes, the government said.

"Sunnis were brought in for the constitution but were again marginalised, and the constitution favoured the two other groups the Shi’ites and Kurds," Hiltermann said.

The ICG has said that the constitution needs to be revisited and a new arrangement made on distributing natural resources such as oil to ensure stability.

Parliamentary elections

Exactly two months later, on 15 December parliamentary elections were held. Nearly 7,000 candidates stood for 275 seats and Sunni parties participated.

This time round one of the highest Shi'ite cleric’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani stayed neutral and didn't back the Shi'ite Alliance, unlike in the January election.

Anti-US Shi'ite cleric Moqtadar Sadr joined forces with the Sunni parties who decided to participate in this election.

The two main Kurdish parties, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) also joined forces under an alliance.

With results soon to be released, Shi'ites are again expected to sweep the polls, however Sunni parties have already complained of irregularities - despite international observers and the UN confirming a clean run.

Special Representative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, welcomed the invitation of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) for additional international observers to assess the 15 December elections following accusations of fraud. Some 1,500 complaints were lodged according to UN officials.

"The good thing about the December election was that Sunnis participated but the logic of sectarianism was already set in motion," Hiltermann said.

There is now a situation where the two dominant groups hold political power and the Sunnis are going to be a political minority, according to the ICG expert. "We need to wait and see what kind of tactical alliances will emerge in 2006. If everything goes well we will see alliances between Shi’ite and Sunni groups," he added.

Insecurity

Insecurity in Iraq was one issue without much development in 2005.

While there are no official statistics, thousands of Iraqis died mainly due to the ongoing insurgency.

According to a dossier on civilian casualties in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, published by the NGO, Iraq Body Count, in association with the Oxford Research Group, 30,892 civilians have been killed. Some 30 percent of these deaths, the report said, was caused in the initial invasion of Iraq.

In a 12 December speech in Philadelphia, the US president said that some 30,000 Iraqis had died in the conflict since the US-led war and occupation began in March 2003.

Still, local officials remain adamant that they are doing all in their limited power to improve security. "There has been an improvement in security in 2005, but we know much more needs to be done," Lt. Col. Ahmed al-Badeen, a senior official in the Ministry of Interior said.

The US and Iraqi forces have been engaged in heavy clashes in western Iraq in efforts to flush out insurgents. This has resulted in displacement of thousands of people, with many still in need of assistance, according to aid agencies.

Al-Badeen said that bomb attacks had decreased by 25 percent compared with 2004, but that kidnappings by insurgents or criminal gangs had increased.

More than 600 kidnappings were reported in 2005, he said, and many others were not registered because families feared reprisals.

Foreign workers and local and international journalists were the most targeted group in the country in 2005, followed by local doctors and teachers, most of whom have fled, leaving behind a brain drain of professionals.

"The situation in Iraq looks austere and the implementation of a new all inclusive government is very important for better security," Hiltermann said.

"There is a need to have an inclusive police and security force that is representative of all ethnic groups," he added.

Reconstruction

2005 was considered to be a progressive year in terms of reconstruction, according to Iraqi and US officials. This, despite insecurity hampering aid work. While analysts remain sceptical about progress in development.

"Last year was really an impressive year for rebuilding Iraq and more than 8 billion has been invested with the full participation of the USAID and PCO [Project and Contracting Office]," Sardawi Karam, a senior official in the Ministry of Reconstruction and Development, said.

"Despite attacks, security concerns and an infrastructure that has deteriorated, the reconstruction effort has made great progress," Karam noted.

Most international NGOs have left the country for security reasons and are working from a distance, based in neighbouring countries such as jordan.

The United Nations reentered Iraq, opening up offices in the north and south and working in a low-key manner due to security concerns. Some 22 people were killed in August 2003, when the UN headquarters in Baghdad was attacked, one of the worst attacks ever on the world body.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has been coordinating reconstruction in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. The USAID programme in Iraq has supported five objectives with funding of over US $5 billion.

"Both the US Defense Department (Army Corps of Engineers) and the State Department have roles in reconstruction, however, the Iraq Project and Contracting Office (PCO) manages most of the pledged $18 billion," Heather Layman, a spokesperson for USAID said.

More than 90 percent of the $18 billion that Congress put aside to rebuild Iraq has already been committed. This is in addition to money the Iraqi government has set aside. More than 40 percent of the total was invested in 2005, local officials said.

"Iraq's economy is forecasted to grow at a rate of 4 percent this year, and accelerate into the double digits next year. Per capita income is nearly double what it was two years ago," Layman added.

In the capital, Baghdad, more than 20,000 new businesses have been registered in 2005, giving an impressive boost to the country's economy. However, local residents still complain of facing regular shortages of water and power due to sabotage or insurgency.

"Very little happened on the reconstruction front and money has not been allocated properly," Hiltermann said. "Most was spent on projects with no follow-up and so projects fell apart."

"Insecurity has contributed to the implementation of reconstruction, he explained. You cannot have an integrated reconstruction plan without security," he stressed.

The Trial

Along with seven of his officers, former president, Saddam Hussein, faced dramatic court proceedings in 2005, accused of crimes against humanity.

"Saddam’s trial means the start of respect for human rights in a country which has suffered for 30 years in the hands of a dictator," Saleh Farhan, senior official in the Ministry of Human Rights, said.

Hussein and the others have gone on trial for the massacre of 148 Shi’ites from the town of Dujail, north of the capital, in 1982.

Saddam would only answer 12 charges of crimes against humanity, although there are more than 500 cases against him.

Six of the most significant crimes according to human rights activists are: the execution of more than 145 Iraqis in 1982 in Dujail; the gassing of nearly 5,000 people in the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988; the execution of key political and religious leaders during the 35 year rule of the Baath party; the killing and deportation of more than 10,000 members of the Kurdish Barzani tribe; the 1991 suppression of a Shi'ite uprising in southern Iraq, and the illegal occupation of Kuwait in 1991.

The trial is expected to resume in February, as soon as the new government assumes its post.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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