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07 December 2023

Election campaigns in full swing in Baghdad

A provincial election poster for the Al-Ahrar independent bloc is fixed to a post as Iraqis attend weekly Friday prayers in Baghdad  (AFP)

It's all-out war in Baghdad these days -- except the street battles in the Iraqi capital are largely being fought with pictures and words instead of bullets and bombs.

The weapon of choice in the scramble to canvass for votes with less than two weeks to go before the provincial election on January 31 is an array of colourful election posters that have brightened the city's drab, blast-wall segregated streets.

Plastered on walls, the propaganda has imbued Baghdad with a slightly hopeful feel -- politicians stamping their promises of a better future in a capital still struggling to provide basic services.

"With us there will be value in your life," reads a poster with a sombre picture of Abdullah al-Obeidi, a businessman turned politician in the uneasy Sunni stronghold of Dora in southern Baghdad.

Propaganda by Abdul Mun'em Jaber Hadi, a member of the Iraqi Communist party and the head of Madanyon list in Baghdad, is more selective: "Vote for Madanyon who will serve retirees and widows."

One of the more recognisable images of the campaign so far belongs to the Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation, led by Mithal Alusi, a Sunni MP better known for making an unapproved trip to Israel in 2004.

His flyers show a photo of a child drinking from a sewage stream through a white pipe. Above it reads the old saying: "Once bitten, twice shy."

The propaganda and promises fly in the face of widespread criticism that the current set of politicians have done little to solve the soul-sapping problems facing many of Baghdad's seven million residents -- a lack of clean water and electricity, and high unemployment.

And despite the improvements in security from a year ago, bombings are still a near daily event adding to the pessimistic views about the future that are not uncommon on the unkempt streets.

"Look what those elected in the previous elections have done. Nothing. They did nothing to make our hopes come true. I will not vote," said Emad Jabbar, 40, who described himself as a government employee.

But Hayder Hassan, 30, a shopkeeper, said casting a ballot was the only way forward despite the problems. "My vote will serve the country and improve security and God willing we will get better city services," he said.

Gaining credibility is the key challenge facing politicians in an election that is seen as a warm up to the key parliamentary poll at the end of the year, said Communist party official Hadi.

"Security is the first step, services are the second step and ending joblessness is the third step", said Hadi, who is standing for one of Baghdad's 57 council seats.

But if politicians are not out stumping for votes or pressing the flesh that is because it is still considered too dangerous. In Iraq politicians or government officials are the routine targets of insurgents or gangs.

On Friday a member of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's party list standing for election near the central city of Hilla was killed in a drive-by shooting in which four others were wounded.

Earlier this month a member of the Kurdish Communist Party was shot dead by unknown assailants at his home in Kirkuk in northern Iraq.

Nevertheless pre-election violence has so far remained relatively low although the US military has warned of the potential for a spike in it as the polls draw nearer.

With up to 15 million Iraqis in most of the country eligible to vote, the ballot will also be a test of Iraq's security forces to prevent violence as the US military takes a back seat as it accelerates its plan for complete withdrawal from Iraq 2011.

Despite the potential threats and dangers the contest promises to be tight with over 400 political groups and 14,431 candidates bidding for 440 provincial council seats in 14 of 18 provinces.

The oil rich province of Kirkuk in the north and the three autonomous Kurdish provinces will go to the polls at a later date.