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Wave of Assassinations in Iraq May Force Postponement of Elections

Wave of Assassinations in Iraq May Force Postponement of Elections

Tuesday, 18 May, 2021 - 05:45
Mourners chant slogans as they march during a funerary procession for renowned anti-government activist Ehab al-Wazni in the city of Karbala on May 9, 2021 following his assassination. (AFP)

The wave of assassinations that has targeted activists in Iraq’s anti-government movement has prompted it to declare a boycott of the upcoming elections, set for October.

The latest assassination victim was Ehab al-Wazni, one of the most prominent faces of the protest movement. He was killed in the city of Karbala on May 9, drawing widespread outrage and condemnation among the protesters.

Ensuing statements of condemnation declared a boycott of the polls, with activists seeking to make their voices heard on the streets rather than the ballots.

Iraqi researchers welcomed the move. Haidar Saeed said that Wazni’s assassination would persuade the “October forces” to refrain from backing the elections.

In contrast, however, the traditional political forces are more determined than ever to hold the elections on time.

As it stands, the elections will be held as scheduled and the traditional powers are on course for victory, dashing popular hopes for radical change in the country.

On the ground, small protests have continued. Last week, protesters in al-Hillah were seen running away from the security forces, which locals said have been ordered to crack down on rallies.

The security forces appeared determined to end the protests with force not seen in the city since the anti-government movement erupted in October 2019.

In a voice recording obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat, an activist said that the federal police and security forces chased the protesters to their homes in a bid to quell their movement. Over 35 people were arrested.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Iraqi officer said the armed groups have decided to limit the popular anger sparked by Wazni’s killing to Karbala to prevent the development from becoming a spark that lights a broader protest movement.

“The gunmen are ready to open a broader front with the activists. You can say that their list of assassination targets is on the table,” he revealed.

Activists spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat of a sense of fear that has gripped the regions in the central and southern Euphrates regions.

The boycott of the elections stems from the desire to avert more assassinations, they added.

However, leaders of the protest movement confirmed that the boycott is also aimed at postponing the polls.

The leaders have ruled out the possibility of holding the elections amid the current state of instability and the armed groups’ tightening grip over the Shiite population that makes up the bulk of the protest movement.

The officer told Asharq Al-Awsat: “It is no surprise that the government is helpless at the moment. Its sovereign decision-making voice has disappeared and the scene has been left to commanders, who are sympathetic with the armed groups.”

In Karbala, a meeting was held by the protest movement leaders aimed at garnering support from social groups, such as academics and syndicates, in an effort to study the electoral boycott.

Meanwhile, the postponement of the elections may present Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s government with an opportunity to catch its breath after it has been pushed to the side and proven ineffectual in ending the assassinations and holding the perpetrators to account.

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