Despite repeated claims that Muqtada al–Sadr will remain on the sidelines of politics with regard to the upcoming elections, the latter has multiplied public appearances, in a clear attempt to influence the voting. On 13 April, Sadr met with influential Shia cleric Ali Al-Sistani and released a joint statement condemning sectarianism and violence. This declaration echoes the accusations recently formulated by the Sadrists and other political blocs against Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who appears determined to capitalise on the worsening security situation in Sunni-dominated provinces and the growing sectarian divide to win Shia support. These tensions are illustrative of the nature of Iraq’s political system, which consists of dozens of parties regrouping under coalition umbrellas partly formed after opaque post-election negotiations. This intra-elite system has led candidates to position themselves against their rivals through personal accusations largely unrelated to the grievances voiced by Sunni and Shia moderates. These tactics were reflected in a controversial national emergency powers bill submitted by Maliki to the parliament, which would give the Prime Minister considerable latitude to manoeuvre. This law, which requires a two-thirds vote in parliament and is therefore unlikely to pass, has been perceived as another attempt by Maliki to capture power, through eliminating opponents or cancelling the votes. Such system, by increasing the distance between the state and society, fosters paralysis, as bold measures would win very few allies in political circles. This continued inaction has fuelled violence in all Sunni-dominated areas, with militants reinforcing strongholds in Anbar, Diyala and Salahuddin. These dynamics continued to be reflected throughout the reporting period, with tensions expected to further escalate in the lead-up to the elections. The return of car bombs in several districts of Baghdad coincided with Liberation Day, as public holidays routinely draw more attacks due to increased opportunities to strike civilian gatherings.
Amid levels of violence consistent with previous weekly averages, a noticeable upsurge in election-related incidents was witnessed across northern governorates. On 09 April, gunmen blew up the house of the polling elections centre manager in Muhallabiyah district of Nineveh, without causing any casualties. In Kirkuk, IEDs detonated against houses owned by local politicians, while an assault on a convoy thought to have targeted Parliament Speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi was also reported. Several polling centres also came under attack, which seems to indicate that northern governorates will be the most exposed to militant operations organised in the lead-up to the votes. The Kurdistan Regional Government announced that its Peshmerga forces would participate in the protection of polling stations in the disputed areas of Kirkuk, Nineveh, Diyala and Salahuddin. In a context of tensions between Erbil and Baghdad, this presence could add another layer to the violence usually recorded in northern governorates.
On 11 April, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al-Mutlaq escaped an assassination attempt in the Abu Ghraib area of Baghdad, after gunmen dressed as soldiers attacked his convoy and killed one of his guards. These targeted assaults are paralleled with electoral discourses, which tend to contain personal accusations rather than coherent political strategies. Attacks against political candidates are therefore likely to be launched over the next weeks. In line with current patterns of violence, VBIEDs returned to Baghdad, with series of car bombs recorded across eastern and northern districts on 09 April, and causing dozens of casualties among civilians. These incidents demonstrate both the capabilities of militants, and the weakness of security forces, which also struggle to draw popular support. These flaws have been particularly apparent in Anbar, with all of Fallujah and shifting parts of Ramadi under insurgent control. The establishment of militant bases in Anbar and governorates surrounding Baghdad guarantees that election-related violence will heavily target central provinces over the next weeks.
Southern provinces witnessed an uptick in violence, with an unusual series of deadly car bombs recorded in Wasit on 09 April, causing over 50 casualties. In the most significant incident, two car bombs detonated in Taja al-Din district, killing five civilians and injuring 21 others. Increased levels of violence in Basra were also illustrative of growing tensions in the lead-up to the polls. These incidents could precede attempts at striking south-eastern governorates over the next weeks, including through mass-casualty attacks which have been avoided since December 2013. Despite this sensible change of dynamics, Babil continued to attract the majority of incidents, with series of IEDs resulting in scores of civilian casualties. The strategic importance of Shia votes in the upcoming elections will likely reflect on militant attacks conducted in the period leading up to the polls.