The upcoming Iraq elections are not only driven by security issues but also by poor economic circumstances and rampant corruption.
BAGHDAD — In a small family garden in the Sediyah district of Baghdad, 52-year-old Saady Faraj Toamaa says he is a wanted man, “Daesh tried to assassinate me, they know me by name, they’ll pay money just to find me,” he told TRT World.
Toamaa has a long history of fighting for his country, going as far back as the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, however he had to flee his hometown of Ramadi three years ago, after fighting against Daesh.
From that time, he has found refuge at his sister’s house, hoping no one will betray him. He no longer owns anything, is struggling to survive under these circumstances and blames the government for neglecting him.
“They only want to keep their power,” he said, “They don’t care about me or my family. If they cared, they’d give me my salary or give me my house back.”
Toamaa would rather leave Iraq than to place hope in the current political leadership, reflecting wider sentiments of many Iraqi people also losing faith in the government.
Elections are set for May 12, and there are at least 7,000 candidates running to be members of parliament, all trying to fill seats, representing 32 different parties.
The candidates will seek to increase vote share for their parties, in order to gain influence in the government.
For most, their campaign messages focus almost solely on security. The Iraqi people, though, want more. They want salaries, jobs and their homes.
According to the International Organization for Migration, at the end of April, over three and a half million Iraqis have returned to their homes, but nearly nine million people still need assistance, while at least two million are still displaced after the war with Daesh.
Alexandra Saieh from the Norweigen Refugee Council (NRC) in Iraq, told TRT World many citizens are returning to the camps.
“They’re unable to survive back home, because their homes are still destroyed and they haven’t been compensated for that damage.”
She explained further, “They can’t find jobs, don’t have access to livelihood. They don’t have access to water or food.”
Although the Ministry of Planning in Iraq says it plans to cover reconstruction for war damages over the next 10 years with a budget of $100 billion, there are still those who believe more needs to be done.
TRT World spoke with one Iraqi member of Parliament who is running to retain his seat, Abdul Karim, who believes the government needs to step up to help people and take measures to understand why Daesh emerged in the first place – after years of Al Qaeda.
“For education and [economic] services, this is the government’s responsibility – but the government was late, and the poor people became victims, because then they were living without homes,” he said.
Karim believes this created a susceptible society for Daesh to take advantage of.
“Everything got destroyed,” he said, but he was also optimistic.“We need to focus on changing the education right now, we need to teach [children] to become patriots. If we don’t, then the next generation will become worse than this one.”
The NRC is attempting to step in to provide what the government has not. They’ve refurbished and rehabilitated nearly 50 schools in the country, run programs for families to receive cash stipends and developed legal services so locals can obtain their identification and government documents.
Saieh said they are helping families with “rehabilitative shelter. We don’t have the ability to completely rebuild homes from scratch, but we do have the tools to assist with minor repairs or parts of homes.”
Even so, Toamaa‘s nephew, Ahmed Jumma, a computer programmer, believes the government should provide these services, and that they won’t be able to do so if they don’t fight corruption. “If we get away from corruption, we will get better,” he said.
He believes the next leader of Iraq needs to be someone “who believes in giving everything ” and “who really cares about the Iraqi people without looking to his own things,” or personal gain.
Many remain vulnerable and candidates have been rumoured to bribe voters. Local reports and videos on social media showed what appeared to be candidates buying votes on the streets, however, TRT World could not independently verify the videos.
Some, though, blame outside influences, such as from the US or Iran, for meddling and supporting various candidates during previous elections.
The US embassy did not respond to a request for a comment on the current elections.
However there are candidates from the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a group that fought alongside the Iraqi army during the defeat of Daesh and have great support from Iran, and some Iraqis feel this could cause further tension and corruption.
While the PMF mission had substantial support from Iranian authorities, Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, one of Iraq's most influential Shia clerics who was born in Iran, does not support PMF members or commanders running for office.
Nevertheless, those running for office are seen by some analysts, and even the US ambassador to Iraq, as Iran attempting to influence Iraqi politics.
This is in addition to a minimal American military footprint on Iraqi soil. From the invasion in 2003, Iraq has struggled with a leadership vacuum after the fall of Saddam Hussein, with mounting tribal tensions between Sunni and Shia groups eventually escalating into a sectarian civil war in 2006.
The tensions were complicated by the presence and expansion of Al Qaeda, a Sunni-linked insurgency, seeking to take advantage of said vacuum.
After the US drove them out of southern provinces, intelligence reports indicated the group sought to seize parts of Iraq and Syria, taking advantage of the chaos resulting from the civil war, and build what the group would later call their own caliphate.
These spiralling conflicts and developments eventually left hundreds of thousands of people displaced as many Iraqis have moved from camps to surrounding countries and back again, struggling to find a home.
Karim says the first government formed after the 2003 invasion only exacerbated religious differences, “The first Iraq government that was formed started to divide by Shia, Sunni, Kurd, Christian and Turkmen, And it was fueled by neighbours and other powerful countries, it damaged the Iraqi community,” he explained.
But Jummaa believes the right candidate and development of the country will bring about change, “If we, as the Iraqi people know how to run our country, we’ll be able to skip over all those influences. We need to put the right man in the right position, the right woman in the right position.”
The Iraqi Electoral commission has invited the UN to monitor the elections. While they will not be directly observing voters, they will provide technical, financial and logistical support to make sure elections run smoothly.
It will take a long time for Iraq to return to normal, as neighbourhoods around the country were reduced to rubble during the fight against Daesh and rebuilding could take years.
For some, like Toamaa – not much can change their minds, he still wants to leave Iraq, “My life is finished, Iraq is like a wave,” he explained, “every time we survive a wave, there is nothing for us.”
As is the case for many Iraqis; it’s hard to hope for a thriving future when it seems forever beyond their reach.