Iraq’s sectarian, religious, and ethnically-based election tensions reach Canada

By Aram Azez:

Iraqi Poll Station in Surrey BC, Canada; photo IKJNews

Iraqi Poll Station in Surrey BC, Canada; photo IKJNews

While Iraq is currently experiencing some difficult sectarian, religious and ethnic tensions, its political, tribal, and social groups are keen to approach the April 30th elections to cast their votes hoping to impact their country’s scrambling political and economic landscapes. However, the mistrust among Iraq’s most divided groups, vying for their supporters’ votes, has reached as far as Canada.

Thousands of Iraqi refugees, most of whom fled their country after the 2003 US-led toppling of Saddam’s regime, have settled or sought refuge in Canada. With a large Iraqi community, mostly Arabs resident in the province of British Columbia (BC), the so-called-Iraqi “Independent Electoral High Commission” has hired some of these Iraqi refugees in order to organize their community’s election stations in the city of Surrey, BC.

Although I have renounced my Iraqi citizenship over three decades ago, because it was the federal and provincial elections, which includes the Kurdistan region’s voting date, I felt it was my obligation as a Kurd to cast my vote. Therefore, as a Kurdish politics observer and voluntary political journalist — on Sunday, April 27, 2014, with my son, who also came to cast his first vote, I went to visit the Iraqi elections’ polls at 15808 104 Ave, in Surrey, BC, Canada, which was located at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel’s dark and deep basement

As we approached the basement, uneasy expressions could be observed on the faces of the Arab- selected elections poll officers. Although many of the election poll stations’ observers (Kurds and some Arabs) knew who I was, they tried their best to prevent my son and I from casting our votes.

While the Kurds have so far been the best organized bloc, compared to the other Iraqi groups, during these elections, they also have their own political ambitions and try hard to influence Kurdish voters to serve their blocs. One of these Kurds, who was elected and paid for by the Iraqi electoral commission to serve as the poll station’s observer, is also known to be a member of a Kurdish political party. Knowing that I would not vote to his preferred candidates, and to prove to his Arab superiors that he was acting as an independent personnel, and obviously wanting to be hired again by the commission, he was more hostile toward our rights to cast or votes.

The so-called Iraqi “Independent High Electoral Commission” representatives’ sectarian, ethnic, and politically motivated bias was obvious in preventing us from casting our votes. The unorganized personnel, who were paid to organize and collect or register the voter’s information, had no clue as how to do this, or didn’t desire to check whether a person had his/ her name registered with the Iraq’s electoral offices.

As if they had sent the IDs to Iraq to verify whether the documents were copies, the Arab controlled elections poll panel’s excuse was that the Kurdistan regional government’s issued IDs were copies rather than original document– but they had to be supported by other official IDs — even Canadian IDs would work. Although I was not excited to cast my vote in such a highly tense atmosphere, to prove that Iraq’s electoral hand-picked bunch of sectarian men were anything but independent, I provided them with two official Canadian IDs to match and support my 18 year old son’s voting rights! However, each person’s objective at the panel was to refer us to another person!

After more than 30 minutes of going back and forth, I had to call the so-called “Head of the Iraqi Independent High Commission”, named Abu Fatima, and his Arab panel in Metro-Vancouver. After a long discussion and much argument it was decided that I could not participate in the vote. According to some Iraqi community members, Abu Fatima represents the Jashi Al-mahid Militia Group which is led by Shia Cleric Maqtada al Sadar. In this regard it became apparent to me that the representatives of selected groups were working hard to collect votes for certain political or social blocs that best serve their ethnic, political, or religious purposes in their home country.

Reflecting on my experience, it seems the obstacles and reactions of the so-called Iraqi “Independent High Electoral Commission” at the Iraqi election polls in Surrey were the result of the Arab Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish tensions in Iraq. Unfortunately, Iraq’s tensions have reached us in the land of democracy, freedom, multiculturalism, and tolerance in Canada.


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