Calls to boycott Iraq’s legislative elections have been taking off on social media, with activists sharing images of themselves hitting campaign posters with shoes or putting up stickers saying “No, I won’t vote”. Turnout is expected to be a record low on election day, October 10. Activists cite entrenched corruption and the power of pro-Iranian militias, both of which were premier issues in the 2019 protests that were violently repressed in Iraq.
The calls for a boycott of the upcoming elections came after a series of murders of pro-democracy activists. More than 70 activists have been murdered since protests began in October 2019. The murders – which activists believe to have been committed by pro-Iranian Shiite militias within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) – have gone unpunished.
The PMF is made up of between 60 and 70 armed Shiite militias. It was formed by the Iraqi government in June 2014 after the Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani called for a jihad against the Islamic State group after their invasion of Mosul.
No group has come forward to claim responsibility for the murders, but pro-democracy activists and the United Nations both believe that they were carried out by militias. The power of Iran-financed armed groups continues to grow in the country.
We spoke to Samer al-Saïdi, the spokesperson for the campaign “Iraqis For Change” which is leading boycott efforts. He told us that these killings have not been prosecuted, or even investigated. According to al-Saïdi, the militias are involved in politics and even have representatives in government and the Parliament.
Killing protesters during demonstrations, targeted killings, kidnappings and torture – none of this has ever led to a serious investigation. Not one suspect has gone to trial. We will not vote as long as those who murder pro-democracy activists go unpunished.