x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Iraq officials face challenge to distribute voter ID cards in Anbar

Fierce clashes pitting government security forces and allied Sunni tribal militias against a coalition of insurgents have been raging in western Iraq’s Anbar province since late December.

Election officials prepare to distribute voter ID cards to Iraqi citizens in Baghdad on Saturday. Karim Kadim / AP Photo
Election officials prepare to distribute voter ID cards to Iraqi citizens in Baghdad on Saturday. Karim Kadim / AP Photo

BAGHDAD // Iraq’s election commission said on Saturday that it has not yet decided how it will distribute voter ID cards in Anbar province, just two months before the country holds elections.

Commission official Aziz Al Kheikani said the distribution began in four new provinces including the capital Baghdad on Saturday in preparation for the April 30 ballot, the first since the 2011 withdrawal of US forces. Voters in 13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces began to receive cards, which contain a computer chip, three weeks ago.

He said authorities will decide “soon” on when and how to distribute the cards in the remaining province, Anbar.

Fierce clashes pitting government security forces and allied Sunni tribal militias against a coalition of insurgents have been raging in western Iraq’s Anbar province since late December. An Al Qaeda offshoot and other insurgent groups have taken control of the city of Fallujah and parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi. Thousands of families have left and government offices have shut down.

The clashes in Anbar have contributed to a spike in violence. Last year was Iraq’s bloodiest since the worst of the country’s sectarian bloodletting began to subside in 2008, with 8,868 killed, according to the UN.

In his televised weekly speech on Wednesday, Iraq’s prime minister Nouri Al Maliki reiterated a pledge to not delay elections because of the violence, calling on people to overcome any reluctance to pick up cards “because their vote will be decisive this time”.

Nearly 22 million Iraqis are eligible to cast their ballots in parliamentary election, scheduled for April 30, to choose 325 legislators.

The voting is the third since 2006. Iraq’s Mr Al Maliki is eying third term in office despite objections from political rivals who accuse him of marginalising partners to consolidate power in his hands.

Last October, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission signed a nearly US$130 million (Dh477m) deal with Spanish technology company Indra to organise the elections by implementing electronic and biometric systems to register voters. The five-year deal stipulates that the company issue 22 million ID chips with voter details recorded on them, as well as supply the needed equipment and training.

In previous elections, voters had to go through lists glued outside balloting centres to find their names before going inside.

Associated Press