In Iraq's shattered Mosul, voters eye fresh start after IS

Mosul (Iraq) (AFP) –


Voters in the ravaged Iraqi city of Mosul flocked to the polls Saturday, hoping that parliamentary elections can help turn the page after the devastating war against the Islamic State jihadist group.

"IS used to repeat to us in the mosques that democracy was a crime against Islam," said 41-year-old labourer Hareth Mohammad.

"But today I am happy that I have voted."

While voting appeared sparse in other regions around the country, turnout was strong in the former Iraqi capital of the self-declared IS "caliphate".

After seeing off the yoke of years of jihadist domination, people in the northern city seemed keen to make their voices count.

"We have voted so that they hear us," said Amina, who like all women in the city was forced to remain indoors under the strict rule of IS.

The old centre of Mosul -- Iraq's second city -- remains in ruins some 10 months after federal forces wrested control from the jihadists following ferocious street-to-street combat.

Houses are bombed out, corpses still rot under the rubble and unexploded ordnance poses a constant threat.

The devastation was just the latest chapter of suffering for a city that has been at the centre of so much of the upheaval that has torn Iraq apart since the 2003 US-led invasion.

"Now that we are free from IS we are voting for security," said Umm Sebhane, 63, a large smile spreading across her face.

After the ferocity of the latest battle, residents in the majority Sunni city are struggling to rebuild their lives and insist their priorities are simple.

"I am voting to choose who will lead the country to stability, security and genuine public services," said Abu Hassan, dressed in a white robe.

- Changing relation with government -

How voting will go across Iraq's Sunni heartlands -- of which Mosul is a key part -- is up in the air as the fallout from jihadist rule has shredded local alliances.

Traditional parties have been tainted by their failure to stand up to IS and Shiite politicians -- led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi -- are hoping to make inroads.

The minority Sunnis once dominated Iraq under dictator Saddam Hussein, but they have played second fiddle since his ouster 15 years ago.

Whether Iraq now manages to reintegrate the community will be crucial for the future of the country, as anger over marginalisation helped fuel the rise of IS.

Iraqi political expert Ali al-Zoubeidi said that the vote should help "determine the future" of the Nineveh region where Mosul is located and "improve its relations with the central government".

In much of Iraq, voters have railed against the fact that the same old figures from the post-Saddam political elite are appearing at the top of the ballots.

But in Mosul and the broader region the situation was starkly different.

This time around some 75 percent of candidates fighting for the 34 seats up for grab in the region are newcomers, showing just how much upheaval there has been.