BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Campaign posters have been defaced and ripped down, some politicians have lied about their rivals and at least one candidate has been abducted.
With tension rising ahead of Thursday”s election, some Iraqis have resorted to underhand and sometimes criminal tricks to discredit opponents and boost their own chances of success.
Iraqis driving through Baghdad this month were greeted by a curious and possibly unnerving sight — anonymous election posters with Saddam Hussein”s face on them.
Someone had grafted images of the deposed president onto the face of secular Shi”ite Muslim candidate Iyad Allawi in an apparant bid to discredit the former prime minister and remind voters of his old links with Saddam”s now defunct Baath Party.
Allawi was a Baathist early in his political career before falling foul of Saddam and opposing him from exile.
No group has claimed responsibility for the posters, which have drawn loud complaints from Allawi”s office.
Now heading a broad coalition, Allawi has accused his opponents of taking advantage of night-time curfews in many Iraqi cities to sabotage his campaign under cover of darkness.
"Our people stick our posters up in the evening and in the morning we find them torn down," he told reporters recently.
"We as civilians are not allowed to travel during the curfew, so who is tearing them down?"
Reuters employees have seen dozens of defaced election posters on Iraq”s streets.
One image of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi”ite Islamist, had its eyes ripped out and a boot stuffed in its mouth — a deep insult in the Arab world.
When Saddam”s statue was toppled in Baghdad in April 2003 following the U.S.-led assault on the city, scores of Iraqis jumped on it and whacked it with their shoes and sandals.
Another poster, of veteran politician Ahmed Chalabi, had been shot through the eyes.
In Najaf, where Allawi was recently chased from a mosque under a hail of stones and shoes, one party complained that another had wrongly told voters it had quit the election race.
Al-Furat satellite television channel, run by the powerful Shi”ite party SCIRI, ran a screen ticker claiming that a rival list, the Shabani Uprising, had withdrawn from the contest.
This was news to Shabani Uprising leader Ali Ghanim al-Jadui and his lawyer Ali Hadi al-Zamili, who complained to Iraq”s electoral commission. "It misled voters who might have been expected to give their support to our list," Zamili said.
While many of these abuses are petty or may even stem from innocent mistakes, the campaign has sometimes turned deadly, with several activists killed simply for putting up posters.
One of the worst incidents occurred in the usually relatively peaceful north of Iraq, when crowds attacked the offices of a Kurdish Islamic party in at least six towns.
Four people were killed and 10 wounded, the party said, blaming the attacks on supporters of the powerful Kurdish bloc which forms part of the current government.
Tawfiq al-Yassiri, from the Sun of Iraq party, was abducted near his home in Baghdad and held for several days. He denied accusations from his opponents that he had orchestrated the incident to boost his profile and win sympathy.
The electoral commission says it is investigating several alleged campaign irregularities, but insists most Iraqis are playing by the rules.
Western diplomats say that mud-slinging and negative campaigning is part of the electoral process in many countries, but acknowledge that it poses a problem in Iraq.
"As far as the level of campaign intimidation and violence is concerned, it is not worse than we saw in the Balkans in the 1990s and certainly not worse than we saw in Algeria but, yes, it is an issue," one diplomat said last week.
"There are going to be problems. The question is, will the problems reach the level of tainting the credibility of the elections? Right now, I”m optimistic."