Aid activists eye role in local government

A group of activists wanting to promote humanitarian issues ran in last weekend’s local elections.

“We decided to run in the elections to… promote humanitarian needs,” said activist Basil al-Azawi.

Al-Azawi’s Baghdad-based Commission for Civil Society Enterprises, which acts as an umbrella group for over 1,000 local NGOs, sponsored three lists of independent candidates representing NGO activists in central Iraq. They put up 83 candidates in all.

“The new group is not affiliated to a specific sect or to any political party but are independent activists with the vision and ambition to change the current humanitarian and services situation,” al-Azawi told IRIN.

Al-Azawi said they were prompted to act by the absence of government support for NGOs and the lack of funds to implement their programmes.

“The NGOs didn’t have the government’s ear over the past few years but from now on there will be a direct connection between the government and NGOs… to meet growing humanitarian needs,” he said.

Provincial elections

The 31 January elections in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces saw more than 14,400 candidates compete for 444 provincial council seats. The councils have significant power to negotiate local business deals, allocate funds and control regional security operations.

Voting was has been postponed until the end of the year in three provinces in the Kurdish Autonomous Region, and the province that includes oil-rich Kirkuk, where ethnic groups were unable to reach a power-sharing deal.

According to the head of Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, Faraj al-Haidari, 7.5 million voters - out of about 15 million - cast their votes. Preliminary results are expected on 6 February.

Hazim Yassin Ali, who lectures in sociology at the University of Diyala, described the decision to hold elections as “unprecedented and bold,” saying it could expedite the meeting of all humanitarian needs.

“They will bear fruit,” Ali told IRIN. “Iraq is going through unprecedented and unique humanitarian challenges that are delaying its development. It needs non-sectarian actors,” he said.