By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
At least 235 people have died in a week marred by election violence and government brinkmanship, bringing the total number of fatalities this year to approx. 1541.
The situation in Iraq remains tense as voters deal with the results of a disappointing election and an emboldened government who has now seized the opportunity to flex its muscles in anticpiation of a near certain election victory.
In a week dominated by the provincial elections Iraq unsurprisingly bore the brunt of increased levels of violence across the centre and northern regions of the country. Correspondents say the vote was to be a test against the political stability in Iraq, 10 years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, however of the almost 14 million Iraqis eligible to vote for more than 8,000 candidates competing for 378 seats. Initial reports from monitoring councils have suggested that only 50% voter turn out was recorded; a similar proportion voted in the 2009 election. Many voters appeared caught between hope for change and improvement, apathy and resignation about how much could really be achieved by such a divisive and tense political and security environment.
On 19 April mortar rounds hit an Iraqi Sunni Muslim mosque and a bomb exploded in a Shi'ite mosque in attacks that killed eight and fuelled tensions on the day before the provincial elections began. This event was the first of many in the run up to the vote with skirmishing reported in many of the fractious provinces in the north of the country. A day earlier, a suicide bomber blew himself up on 18 Apr inside a Baghdad cafe in a mainly Sunni neighborhood, killing a least 32 and wounding dozens more in one of the worst single attacks in the Iraqi capital of this year.
19 Apr also saw troops fire on Sunni Muslim protesters in Kirkuk in clashes that killed at least two people during a rally against Al-Maliki and the Shia bloc. This initial cycle of pre- vote violence culminated last Friday with a bomb being placed inside a Shi'ite mosque in Kirkuk, 170 km north of the capital, which also killed one and wounded 12 more, just as worshippers were leaving after Friday Prayers.
Despite a relatively calm start to voting on Saturday 20 Apr polling stations both north and south of the capital came under attack from indirect mortar fire with five people being killed and scores wounded, a mercifully low number given the previous two days violence. The day ended with polling stations reporting that in some regions, especially Baquba, disgruntled voters had started to attack and burn the polling stations after being unable to find their names on the electoral register.