The head of the provincial council in Iraq's Diyala Province has stirred controversy by calling for the postponement of the local elections, slated in most Iraqi governorates for the 31st of next month. Meanwhile, the provincial police chief has defended an arrest campaign launched by his forces in the province over the last few days, denying allegations that the arrests, which have included local officials, are linked to the upcoming elections.
Local politicians and observers in Diyala Province have warned of the possibility of renewed violence and sectarian strife in the cities of the province during the election season, al-Malaf Press writes in Arabic, while the president of the Diyala Provincial Council demanded that the elections in the restive province be postponed for six months, claiming that conditions in the province do not permit the polls to be held.
A wide-ranging arrest campaign in the cities of Ba'qouba and Muqdadiya during the last weeks has netted some members of the elected local councils in Muqdadiya, and police and army officers, the news agency adds.
Several candidates of political factions vying for seats in the coming elections have said that the security forces are unaware of the possibly far-reaching and destabilizing consequences of the latest arrests, the agency writes, without identifying the political entities in question.
Diyala police forces confirmed that they are implementing arrest warrants issued earlier by local courts, al-Malaf Press adds, but said these operations had no relationship to the
"Some hundreds" of family members of detainees held a recent protest in Muqdadiya originating at a mosque associated with a political party in the area, al-Malaf Press writes.
The Provincial Police chief commented on the demonstration, saying, "The police forces are implementing orders from the Iraqi judiciary to arrest wanted suspects, so they are in fact assuring the protection of the demonstrators," the commander claimed, adding that "peaceful protests to obtain the attention of officials are one of the manifestations of democracy and human rights that the Diyala Police are protecting in the province."
The police chief denied that anyone without an arrest warrant had been arrested, especially members of municipal councils and former and present police and army commanders, emphasizing that the police command is "aware of the accusations made against it in light of the arrests, but the police are implementing orders from the Iraqi judiciary," which issued the arrest orders. "As the implementing agency, it is incumbent on us to play our role in this matter," he said, deferring on the content of the cases to the Iraqi courts.
As the arrest campaigns in the last three days in Ba'qouba and Muqdadiya have swept up members of local councils and officers in the Iraqi army and police, some political political blocs entities in the province have alleged that the arrest campaign is politically motivated, in the context of the election campaign in the province.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Hasan Bajlan, the head of the Diyala Provincial Council, said that the province is "passing through exceptional conditions" that "compel us to demand the Cabinet and the Presidency of the Republic, and the Parliament to postpone the elections for a six-month period, indicating that the security situation in the province is still not stable, and that there are 27,000 displaced Diyala inhabitants who have not yet returned to their original areas.
Bajlan added that "Thousands of residents have been harmed by acts of terrorism and more than 8,000 homes have been destroyed, and most of the damages have not been compensated. Additionally, unemployment is increasing and reconstruction projects are few" in the province, the provincial council president said.
These reasons "compel us to doubt the possibility of successful elections in the province, and therefore we demand that they be postponed," Bajlan announced.
However political sources in the province said that Bajlan had been a candidate at the head of the Kurdistan Coalition list but withdrew his candidacy and put a Shi'a Kurd named Sayyid Talib at the head of the list, in a calculated electoral move based on the fear that Shi'a Kurds in Diyala Province, known as Fayliya, would vote for Shi'a candidates on a sectarian basis rather than for Kurdish candidates on an ethnic basis.
These unnamed sources added that this reason lies behind Bajlan's call to postpone the elections, pointing also suggested that Bajlan could be "paid by other non-Kurdish parties," especially since his call to postpone the elections "found an echo" among the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), which has also called for the postponement of the elections, because of popular reluctance to vote for Islamic or religious parties, according to al-Malaf Press.
It is expected that the provincial council elections, slated for January 31, will redraw the political map by redistributing positions in Iraq's local governments. Sunni Arabs and Turkmen groups largely boycotted the 2005 contest in Diyala Province, giving what some say is disproportionate power to better organized Kurdish and Shi'a parties.
Bajlan said earlier that electoral candidates in Diyala had experienced threats of death by armed groups, and doubted the integrity of the elections if they are held on the specified date. IraqSlogger reported earlier that an Islamic Party official in the province claimed that candidates affiliated with his party's bloc had also received death threats.