Demands for change as Iraqis vote in national polls

Hilla (Iraq) (AFP) –


Iraqis voting across the country in parliamentary polls Saturday insisted they were hoping for change, even as the same old names continued to dominate the ballot papers.

Just over 15 years after the US-led invasion upended Iraqi politics there is widespread fatigue with an entrenched elite viewed as mired in graft and sectarianism.

"For the past three parliamentary terms, the corrupt have been playing out the same comedy to keep their grip on the country," said Ahlam Hamza, a teacher in the town of Hilla, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Baghdad.

"Now it is a national duty to get rid of them."

Retiree Taher Mahmoud was casting his ballot in the southern city of Basra, the heart of Iraq's key oil producing region.

But taking into account the pitted roads and the dilapidated infrastructure that plagues the area, the 56-year-old was clear about his aims.

"We don't want to let the corrupt come back to power because they don't work for the general good, but for their own interests," Mahmoud told AFP.

"People have to wake up and vote for better candidates."

The nationwide poll on Saturday comes at a time of cautious hope for Iraq, five months after the country declared victory over the Islamic State group.

Ahead of the vote, top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani weighed in and called for Iraqis not to re-elect those who had proved to be "corrupt and failing".

- 'Corrupt sharks' -

But there remains plenty of scepticism that the elections will bring a radical overhaul, with only a minority of the candidates being fresh faces.

"The corrupt sharks continue to suffocate us, sitting at the top of their party lists," said voter Ahmed Nasser, 65, in Hilla.

"But we want change because they have brought us nothing but graft and chaos."

First-time election hopefuls are often buried low down on their party lists, meaning that they have little chance of getting elected.

But in the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk to the north, Abdallah al-Obeidi said as he exited the polling station that he had managed to "choose a new candidate".

"I did it because I am tired of all these old faces," said the 55-year-old voter.

In the western province of Anbar, a Sunni region that was the last in Iraq to be recaptured from IS, unemployed Omar al-Doulaimi demanded more from those representing him.

"We want someone who will be honest with us and not someone who will just increase his own personal wealth," the 27-year-old said.

Those sentiments were echoed back in the capital Baghdad, where housewife Umm Zineb said she didn't care who was in charge -- as long as they are trustworthy.

"Whether they are communists, religious or secular the most important thing is that they should care about the country and the people," she said.