Saddam Hussein’s overthrow led to years of bloodshed between the once dominant Sunnis and the newly empowered Shiite majority.
Sunni resentment at their perceived disenfranchisement after the last national vote in 2005 fuelled a ferocious insurgency.
To mark a new start – in the Sunni province of Salhaddin – where Saddam and his sons are buried, tribal chief Munaf Ali al-Nada is running for parliament.
“Four years ago, no one took part in elections because no one was convinced about the political process,” he said. “What is the point of voting for a closed list? What is the point of voting for a number?”
Sectarian tensions have flared in the run-up to the vote after a panel dominated by Shia politicians banned dozens of candidates for their alleged links to Saddam’s Baath party, which in turn has led to concerns over a possible Sunni election boycott.
Sunni tribal sheik Ahmed al-Jasir is calling for full Sunni participation.
“It is for all the tribal chiefs to rehabilitate the country after everything that happened as a result of the occupation of Iraq,” he said.
“So, they should urge people in their areas to take part in the election in order to achieve a minimum of their ambitions.”
The country is divided between three main religious and ethnic groups. The Shiites are the majority (60 per cent of the population), followed by Sunnis with 20 per cent and Kurds on 17 per cent.
Voting patterns reflect the differences between the communities as shown by the election results of 2005.
In the Shia area, the winner, The Alliance of Iraqi Unity. In the Sunni area, the Iraqi Front for Harmony and in the north, the Kurdistan Alliance.
Mohammed Kiani, the head of the “Change” list
of candidates in Kurdistan believes the Kurds in the north will play a pivotal role in the poll. After the election their allegiance will be eagerly sought by Arab parties. The Kurds will be kingmakers.
“The Kurds,” he said, “will have a
vital role in building the new government and we will have our conditions when united with any coalition to build a new government.”
After the poll, Kurds are likely to push contentious issues such as; a degree of autonomy from Baghdad and, perhaps more pressing – control of oil-producing Kirkuk and the lifting of a ban on oil exports from the region.