Campaigning for Iraq’s March 7th election officially started last week. Already, we’ve seen an uptick in violence, with a number of political parties targeted by bombings in the past few days.
I’ve learned about another political party that appears to be getting singled out for the rough stuff. The Ahrar Party, which I’ve written about before, has been subjected to two incidents of serious harassment and one assassination attempt over the past five days.
On Saturday, according to a source, four Ahrar campaign workers were detained in Sadr City after they had tried to put up billboards. Though they had all the proper identifcation and paperwork, an Iraqi Army unit still held them for twenty four hours.
On Tuesday in Mosul, another group of Ahrar campaign workers was attacked. They were midway through putting up a 12 by 5 meter poster, according to my source, when they came under fire by unknown gunmen.
On Wednesday, one of their candidates in Maysan province was ambushed, I’ve been told. The attackers killed one of his body guards, though the Ahrar candidate escaped unharmed.
As is often the case in Iraq, it’s unclear what entity is behind the attacks. It could be Shiite militias, Sunni insurgent groups, rival political parties, or just acts of random violence.
But an equally important question is: why is Ahrar Party getting targeted? I offer three possible, and disturbing, answers to that question.
1)The Ahrar party is headed by a secular Shiite cleric named Jamal Ayad Aldin. Their list is made up of other secular candidates. We’ve seen the Iraqi government–in its efforts to ban over 500 candidates–target secularlists. The number two man on Ahrar’s list, a secular Sunni named General Najeem Said, was in fact banned from running. This might very well be part of a larger effort by the Shiite Islamist government in Baghdad to make life more difficult for secular parties.
2) Jamal Ayad Aldin has been very, very, critical of Iranian influence in Iraq. He’s also been getting some favorable TV coverage on Iraqiya, a popular satellite TV channel. So could the Iranians be trying to take out an enemy? Well, just this week top American General Ray Ordierno accused Iran of being behind the election ban, so it’s not far fetched that they’d support attacks on their enemies inside Iraq as well.
All in all, it’s a continuation of troubling trend in Iraqi politics: the parties, and politicians, that have been subject to the suspect political hijinx (the election bans) and violence(the headquarter bombings were aimed at Sunni parties, and the intimidation that Ahrar has faced) are largely secular. Ahrar, in particular, is non-sectarian. All speak towards the rather undemocratic means that the current Baghdad government appears to be employing to maintain a heavily Islamist, Iranian-backed, Shiite dominated rule in Baghdad.
(Complicating caveat: Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the bombings against the Sunni parties. For one, maybe Iran is funding AQI, but that’s neither here nor there. The result of AQI’s continued attacks will likely be the same: heightened sectarian tensions and Sunni disenfranchisement, which will play into the hands of the more powerful Shiite security forces, allowing them to solidify their hold on power.)