Iraq’s parliament on Monday set May 12 as the date for holding national elections despite calls from the country’s Sunni community to delay the vote until the return of nearly three million people displaced by the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Shia lawmaker Abbas al-Bayati said lawmakers at a session in the Shia-dominated house “unanimously” approved the date proposed by the government.
The deeply divided parliament failed many times to set the date, prompting the country’s Supreme Court to issue a ruling on Sunday against any delay to the elections, the fourth since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is seeking re-election, building on a surge in his popularity among Iraq’s majority Shia Arab community after leading the fight against ISIS.
The role of prime minister is reserved for the Shia Arabs under a power-sharing system set up after the removal of Hussein, a Sunni Arab.
Insurgent-style attacks still common
The largely ceremonial office of president is reserved for a Kurdish member of parliament, while the speaker of parliament is drawn from among Sunni Arab MPs.
The over three-year fight against ISIS has left most of the Sunni areas in northern and western Iraq in ruins, and poor public services have exacerbated the situation. The Sunnis argue that the current situation will make it hard for Sunni voters to update their information ahead of elections or cast their ballots.
Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said the government is committed to returning the displaced and to creating a peaceful atmosphere for the elections. All weapons must be in the hands of the government during election campaigns and the voting day, al-Jabouri added.
Abadi, PM since 2014, has vowed to lead a “cross-sectarian” parliament. Factions led by Shia paramilitary troop leaders that fought ISIS, ex-premier Nouri al-Maliki — who currently serves as one of three vice-presidents — and followers of firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are expected to be his main rivals.
Despite the declared victory over ISIS, Iraqi and U.S. officials have warned it will likely to continue with insurgent-style attacks. Last week, two ISIS suicide attacks killed at least 46 and wounded more than 100.