US envoy to Iraq: early elections possible despite attempts to discredit them

Matthew Tueller says Iraqi government can hold elections and is responsible for protecting the US embassy

Matthew Tueller, nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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The Iraqi government is capable of holding early elections despite efforts by some groups to undermine the October polls, according to US Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller.

“I think the capabilities within the Iraqi higher electoral committee are very strong, they will be able to do this," Mr Tueller told the Kurdish news network Rudaw.

He said it is up to the Iraqi government to make sure that the preparations are adequate to meet the challenge of those who would like to try to disrupt the election.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi pledged in May of last year, when he was sworn in after months of political deadlock, to organise early elections and address the demands of tens of thousands of youth who took to the streets.

He also promised to bring to justice those responsible for killing the protesters who demonstrated in late 2019 in Baghdad and many southern cities to express their anger at endemic corruption, high unemployment, foreign interference and a desire for better public services.

More than 500 protesters were shot dead by security forces and unidentified gunmen during five months of unrest. Thousands of others were injured.

The country has battled economic hardship for many years, compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

Elections boycott

Mr Tueller cautioned against attempts to discredit the upcoming vote.

“The real question is there are groups that want to see these elections discredited, they want to see turn-out suppressed, they want to see security conditions that would mar the outcome of the election,” he said.

Some Iraqi parties have decided to boycott the early elections, while others are still discussing the merits of withdrawing from the electoral scene.

The Iraqi Communist Party was the first to announce its boycott decision this week, saying it doubts the independence of the electoral commission.

In the 2018 elections, the ICP joined forces with Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr in the Sairoon alliance, which won the most seats in parliament.

Two more political groups followed suit on Wednesday, the Iraqi Forum and the National Dialogue Front.

On the security threats to Iraq, the US ambassador said his country is still supporting and advising the Iraqi government in its fight against terrorism as remnants of ISIS recently increased attacks.

Mr Tueller said the onus was on the Iraqi government to prevent the frequent rocket attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad and airbases housing troops that have been blamed on Iraqi paramilitary groups since the assassination of a top Iranian commander in January last year.

“It is normal that a host government is responsible for protecting embassies and protecting forces that are in the country [by invitation]. So the real question is for the Iraqi government – will they be able to stand up to those forces that, as I said, are resisting the Iraqi government. Will they be able to hold accountable those who are conducting these attacks, will they be able to deter them, will they be able to chase them down? I have seen some success in that regard and we hail that.”

Recent attacks targeted the embassy or Iraqi military bases where American troops are stationed.

Iraq has been the scene of a confrontation between Iran and the US in recent months after former US president Donald Trump ordered the killing of the top Iranian military commander, Gen Qasem Suleimani, by a drone strike at Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.

The drone attack also killed Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, an Iraqi who was deputy head of the Iraqi militias' umbrella group and commanded the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group.

Updated: August 01, 2021, 3:32 PM