Monday, February 09, 2009

Secularist Wins Kérbéla

A secularist former Baathist wins in Kérbéla, a bastion of Shiism. Only in democratic Iraq. This proves two things: 1) A secular candidate can win in a religious Iraqi city. 2) Not all Baathists committed crimes during Saddam's regime. It reminds me of my post about Germany after WWII, in which mayors who had not committed crimes under the Nazi regime kept their jobs after the war. Thanks Molly for the link.

On a side note, in case you haven't noticed, I like spelling the names of Iraqi cities the way they sound, and I find the letter e-acute (é) to be useful for this purpose. I just learned from that Wiki page how to type the é using my keyboard, so from now on I will spell it Néjéf and Kérbéla, because I would like my American friends to stop saying "Najoff" and "Kar bolla".

A Secularist Finds Sway in a Hub of Shiite Islam

Published: February 8, 2009

KARBALA, Iraq — On battered blast walls and rusted telephone poles, the election posters that line the rubble-strewn road from Baghdad to Karbala show the familiar faces of the would-be leaders of Iraq.

Already withered and peeling, the posters are the physical traces of the Jan. 31 elections, where national leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, backed local candidates in an effort to solidify their power bases.

Yousef Majid al-Habboubi was not among those favored with an endorsement.

Yet Mr. Habboubi, a former Baath Party member who has largely been out of politics since the American invasion in 2003, managed to defeat soundly not only candidates from the religious parties that controlled Karbala Province, but also Mr. Maliki’s preferred candidates, gaining nearly twice as many votes as his two closest competitors.

In one respect, Mr. Habboubi’s victory is a reflection of how dominant an issue reconstruction and the restoration of basic government services have become.

Karbala is dominated by religious Shiites and is home to some of their holiest shrines. Yet the votes here seemed driven more by a desire for pragmatism than piety, going to Mr. Habboubi, a secularist with government experience, over the religious parties that have held sway here since the American invasion.

Even more noteworthy here in Shiite country, which greatly suffered under Saddam Hussein’s Baathist rule, was the willingness to turn to a man with a Baathist past. Despite that, voters interviewed said Mr. Habboubi was an overwhelmingly better candidate because of his experience as a deputy governor and his recent activities in local government.

Born in Najaf, Mr. Habboubi worked in the 1970s at a firehouse in Karbala, and even as he ascended the Baathist ranks he maintained a reputation as a populist.

“He sold his own car to help restore Ahmed bin Hashim shrine,” recalled Mohammad Abdul Hassan, 35, a firefighter in Karbala.


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