April 29 (Bloomberg) -- Militant leaders who are fighting the Iraqi army in the western province of Anbar urged their fellow Sunnis across the country to boycott tomorrow’s vote, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seeking re-election.
Maliki “sent his troops to Anbar province to prevent Sunnis from participating in the vote,” Sheikh Abdel-Qader al-Nayel, a military spokesman for Anbar’s tribal revolutionary council, said in a phone interview from the province. “He sent 12 army divisions to Anbar to fight its people. We fought Iran for eight years with only eight divisions.”
Fighters linked to al-Qaeda and their tribal allies have gained control of parts of Anbar, including the city of Fallujah, amid a surge of violence this year.
The sectarian conflict has been exacerbated by the war in Syria, which borders Anbar. Sunni militants in Iraq have collaborated with their co-religionists who are fighting to oust Bashar al-Assad. Maliki’s Shiite-led government has sided with the Syrian president, who is also backed by the region’s main Shiite power, Iran.
Yesterday, when security forces and expatriates cast their ballots, at least 50 people were killed in bombings throughout the country, some targeting polling stations.
The increase in attacks this year threatens to return Iraq to the levels of violence it experienced after the U.S. invasion of 2003, when Sunnis and Shiites fought a civil war.
More than 3,000 civilians were killed in the first three months of this year, according to the unofficial Iraq Body Count website, triple the figure for the same period of 2013. Many attacks have targeted Shiite areas of Baghdad and other cities.
Maliki has called for U.S. assistance against what he says is a wave of terrorism, and has blamed Gulf states including Saudi Arabia for supporting the insurgents. Many Sunnis say Maliki’s government has eroded their rights, pointing to the violent dispersal of protests and the arrest of Sunni leaders.
“Hundreds of thousands of Anbar people fled the province since January” because of Maliki’s “aggressive” military action there, al-Nayel said. “How do you expect them to vote? That’s what Maliki wanted in the first place.”
Al-Nayel urged Sunnis throughout Iraq not to vote. The call was echoed by Sheikh Rafei Mishen al-Jumaily, head of the Jumelat tribe, one of the largest in Anbar, who is also fighting the Iraqi army.
“We call upon Sunnis to boycott the election and to avoid giving this government legitimacy,” he said in a video message from the town of Garma in Anbar province.
Maliki, 63, is seeking a majority in the parliamentary elections to extend his hold on power in the nation of 33 million people, where he first took office in 2006. The new parliament will also choose a president to replace Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader who has been receiving medical treatment in Germany since suffering a stroke in December 2012.
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