“Whenever there is an election of any kind, we get pressure from our superiors,” says one army captain, who wanted to be known only as Mahmoud. “They force us to vote even if we don’t want to. Often we’ll hear rumours that the military knows who soldiers voted for and that they’ll punish anyone who doesn’t support the existing Defence Minister's party, or the Prime Minister’s party.”
Another big issue for the military voters is the current conflict in the Anbar province. The question being asked is how exactly can these soldiers vote when they’re busy battling extremists and tribal groups on a daily basis? It’s also highly likely that this conflict will have an impact on the military voters’ states of mind and influence their choice of candidate.
“Soldiers should be able to vote freely without the psychological pressures of battle,” Hamid al-Mutlaq, one of Anbar's Sunni Muslim candidates, told NIQASH. “The fighting in Anbar is bound to affect their choices.”
In Anbar it will also be difficult to guarantee the presence of international or local observers, to ensure voting is done according to the rules and that there is no fraud. Voting for the military and then later on, for the Anbar locals, will take place in schools or other public places, or in military barracks – and all of these will be difficult for election observers to reach as they may well be dangerous, given current conditions in some areas of Anbar.
It is also possible that the situation they are facing in Anbar may be turning the Iraqi military against al-Maliki. When problems first started in Anbar, al-Maliki seemed to be very popular with the military, observers say. However over recent months this has changed.
“Al-Maliki’s popularity is decreasing,” says one senior member of the military in Basra province, who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions. “Because the army is having huge difficulties in Anbar.”