Iraq elections 2018: country readies for first polls since end of ISIS war



Iraq is gearing up for key parliamentary elections on Saturday, some five months after declaring victory over ISIS, with the dominant Shiites split, the Kurds in disarray and Sunnis sidelined.

A lull in violence ahead of the fourth such nationwide vote since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003 has spurred some hope for Iraqis, but surging tensions between key players Iran and the US could rattle the country.

Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi — who has balanced off Washington and Tehran — is angling for a new term as he takes credit for the brutal fightback against the extremists and seeing off a Kurdish push for independence.

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But stiff competition from within his Shiite community, the majority group that dominates Iraqi politics, should fragment the vote and spell lengthy horse-trading to form any government.

Whoever emerges as premier will face the mammoth task of rebuilding a country left shattered by the battle against ISIS.

Despite a rare period of calm, more than two and a half million people remain internally displaced and the extremists still pose a major security threat.

Over 15 blood-sodden years since the US-led invasion upended Iraqi politics there is also widespread disillusionment with the same old faces from an elite seen as mired in corruption and sectarianism.

Mr Abadi — who took over as ISIS rampaged across the country in 2014 — is facing two leading Shiite challengers to his Victory Alliance, which has pitched itself as an attempt to bridge Iraq's Shiite-Sunni divide.

Former Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki — a bitter foe despite coming from the same Dawa party — is widely reviled for stirring sectarianism and losing territory to ISIS, but draws support from a hardline base.

Former Transport Minister Hadi Al Ameri — who has close ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guards — is hailed by many as a war hero after leading paramilitary units that fought ISIS alongside Baghdad's troops.

He wants US forces that helped battle the extremists to leave Iraq for good, challenging Mr Abadi's cautious foreign policy that has seen him build bridges with Iran's rival Saudi Arabia.

Overall just under 7,000 candidates are standing and Iraq's complex system means no single bloc looks set to get anything near a majority in the 329-seat parliament.

"There is certainly a contest between the three main lists for the post of prime minister, but that will not impact the system that sees the Shiites control and run Iraq," said Jordan-based analyst Adel Mahmud.

Among the other groups jostling for position in the negotiations to come is an unlikely alliance between Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and secular communists that is looking to ride a wave of protests against corruption.

Votes in the Sunni heartlands once dominated by ISIS — including Iraq's devastated second city Mosul — are up in the air as traditional alliances have been shredded by the fallout of extremist rule.

Mr Abadi is aiming to be the first Shiite leader to make inroads there but apathy is high as people struggle to rebuild their lives and few efforts have been made to reach out to the hundreds of thousands still displaced in camps.

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Political forces in the Kurdish community — often seen as potential kingmakers — are also in disarray after a controversial vote for independence in September backfired spectacularly.

Baghdad unleashed a battery of sanctions and seized back disputed oil-rich regions in the wake of the ballot and the Kurds now look set to lose some of their clout on the national stage.

In a sign of the disenchantment with Iraq's squabbling elite, the country's top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani has broken with previous habits and not urged people to cast ballots.

Instead he demanded that Iraq's nearly 24.5 million registered voters refuse to re-elect legislators who have already held government jobs and proved to be "corrupt and failing".

The swirling uncertainty around the elections has sparked concern that ISIS — which has threatened to attack the vote — could profit from any power vacuum.

There are also fears that a spike in tensions between the US and Iran after President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal could spill over into Iraq, where both play major roles.

But while the situation remains combustible, analysts say that for now no side appears keen on destabilising Iraq as it emerges from the turmoil of the war against the extremists.

The US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement "will of course have a direct influence on the political situation in Iraq", said Iraqi political expert Essam Al Fili.

"But the situation is sensitive and parties loyal to Iran will surely want to join forces with a moderate Shiite figure who can get American approval."

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
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Sector: Microfinance
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Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

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Who are the Sacklers?

The Sackler family is a transatlantic dynasty that owns Purdue Pharma, which manufactures and markets OxyContin, one of the drugs at the centre of America's opioids crisis. The family is well known for their generous philanthropy towards the world's top cultural institutions, including Guggenheim Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate in Britain, Yale University and the Serpentine Gallery, to name a few. Two branches of the family control Purdue Pharma.

Isaac Sackler and Sophie Greenberg were Jewish immigrants who arrived in New York before the First World War. They had three sons. The first, Arthur, died before OxyContin was invented. The second, Mortimer, who died aged 93 in 2010, was a former chief executive of Purdue Pharma. The third, Raymond, died aged 97 in 2017 and was also a former chief executive of Purdue Pharma. 

It was Arthur, a psychiatrist and pharmaceutical marketeer, who started the family business dynasty. He and his brothers bought a small company called Purdue Frederick; among their first products were laxatives and prescription earwax remover.

Arthur's branch of the family has not been involved in Purdue for many years and his daughter, Elizabeth, has spoken out against it, saying the company's role in America's drugs crisis is "morally abhorrent".

The lawsuits that were brought by the attorneys general of New York and Massachussetts named eight Sacklers. This includes Kathe, Mortimer, Richard, Jonathan and Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, who are all the children of either Mortimer or Raymond. Then there's Theresa Sackler, who is Mortimer senior's widow; Beverly, Raymond's widow; and David Sackler, Raymond's grandson.

Members of the Sackler family are rarely seen in public.

Company profile

Name:+Thndr

Started:+October 2020

Founders:+Ahmad Hammouda and Seif Amr

Based: Cairo, Egypt

Sector: FinTech

Initial investment: pre-seed of+$800,000

Funding stage: series A;+$20 million

Investors: Tiger Global, Beco Capital, Prosus Ventures, Y Combinator, Global Ventures, Abdul Latif Jameel, Endure Capital, 4DX Ventures, Plus VC, Rabacap and MSA Capital

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Co Chocolat

Started: 2017

Founders: Iman and Luchie Suguitan

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Food

Funding: $1 million-plus

Investors: Fahad bin Juma, self-funding, family and friends

Expert advice

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Stewart Howison, co-founder of Cycle Safe Dubai and owner of Revolution Cycles

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Cornelia Gloor, head of RAK Hospital’s Rehabilitation and Physiotherapy Centre 

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can ride as fast or as far during the summer as you do in cooler weather. The heat will make you expend more energy to maintain a speed that might normally be comfortable, so pace yourself when riding during the hotter parts of the day.”

Chandrashekar Nandi, physiotherapist at Burjeel Hospital in Dubai
 

Results

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6.05pm: Maiden (TB) Dh82,500 (Turf) 1,400m, Winner: Mayehaab, Adrie de Vries, Fawzi Nass

6.40pm: Handicap (TB) Dh85,000 (D) 1,600m, Winner: Monoski, Mickael Barzalona, Salem bin Ghadayer

7.15pm: Handicap (TB) Dh102,500 (T) 1,800m, Winner: Eastern World, Royston Ffrench, Charlie Appleby

7.50pm: Handicap (TB) Dh92,500 (D) 1,200m, Winner: Madkal, Adrie de Vries, Fawzi Nass

8.25pm: Handicap (TB) Dh92,500 (T) 1,200m, Winner: Taneen, Dane O’Neill, Musabah Al Muhairi

FIGHT INFO

Men’s 60kg Round 1:

Ahmad Shuja Jamal (AFG) beat Krisada Takhiankliang (THA) - points 
Hyan Aljmyah (SYR) beat Akram Alyminee (YEM) - retired Round 1
Ibrahim Bilal (UAE) beat Bhanu Pratap Pandit (IND) - TKO Round 1

Men’s 71kg Round 1:
Seyed Kaveh Soleyman (IRI) beat Abedel Rahman (JOR) - RSC round 3.
Amine Al Moatassime (UAE) walk over Ritiz Puri (NEP)

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ETFs have zero upfront fees and annual charges as low as 0.07 per cent a year, which means you get to keep more of your returns, as actively managed funds can charge as much as 1.5 per cent a year.

There are thousands to choose from, with the five biggest providers BlackRock’s iShares range, Vanguard, State Street Global Advisors SPDR ETFs, Deutsche Bank AWM X-trackers and Invesco PowerShares.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)

RESULTS

1.45pm: Handicap (TB) Dh80,000 (Dirt) 1,400m
Winners: Hyde Park, Royston Ffrench (jockey), Salem bin Ghadayer (trainer)

2.15pm: Conditions (TB) Dh100,000 (D) 1,400m
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2.45pm: Conditions (TB) Dh100,000 (D) 1,200m
Winner: Hurry Up, Royston Ffrench, Salem bin Ghadayer.

3.15pm: Shadwell Jebel Ali Mile Group 3 (TB) Dh575,000 (D) 1,600m
Winner: Blown by Wind, Xavier Ziani, Salem bin Ghadayer

3.45pm: Handicap (TB) Dh72,000 (D) 1,600m
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4.15pm: Handicap (TB) Dh64,000 (D) 1,950m
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School counsellors on mental well-being

Schools counsellors in Abu Dhabi have put a number of provisions in place to help support pupils returning to the classroom next week.

Many children will resume in-person lessons for the first time in 10 months and parents previously raised concerns about the long-term effects of distance learning.

Schools leaders and counsellors said extra support will be offered to anyone that needs it. Additionally, heads of years will be on hand to offer advice or coping mechanisms to ease any concerns.

“Anxiety this time round has really spiralled, more so than from the first lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Priya Mitchell, counsellor at The British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi.

“Some have got used to being at home don’t want to go back, while others are desperate to get back.

“We have seen an increase in depressive symptoms, especially with older pupils, and self-harm is starting younger.

“It is worrying and has taught us how important it is that we prioritise mental well-being.”

Ms Mitchell said she was liaising more with heads of year so they can support and offer advice to pupils if the demand is there.

The school will also carry out mental well-being checks so they can pick up on any behavioural patterns and put interventions in place to help pupils.

At Raha International School, the well-being team has provided parents with assessment surveys to see how they can support students at home to transition back to school.

“They have created a Well-being Resource Bank that parents have access to on information on various domains of mental health for students and families,” a team member said.

“Our pastoral team have been working with students to help ease the transition and reduce anxiety that [pupils] may experience after some have been nearly a year off campus.

"Special secondary tutorial classes have also focused on preparing students for their return; going over new guidelines, expectations and daily schedules.”

HAJJAN

Director: Abu Bakr Shawky 


Starring: Omar Alatawi, Tulin Essam, Ibrahim Al-Hasawi 


Rating: 4/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)


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