by Jamal Hashim, Liang Youchang
BAGHDAD, April 30 (Xinhua) -- Eleven years after the United States led a war to topple Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, the country is facing political, social and economic crises, which are destabilizing the country and threatening to disintegrate it.
Many Iraqis voice their hope that the parliamentary elections on Wednesday would bring about a change to the country, but local observers caution that Iraq still needs a long way to go before it becomes a stable and prosperous state.
HOPE FOR CHANGE AMONG ALL
Differences and divisions among Iraq's main communities -- mainly the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds -- have been deepening, reflecting the failure of the political process to curb the power struggle among the country's factions that erupted after the U.S.- led invasion.
But all the groups would like to see a change in the country.
"All the blocs are focusing on change, which means political leaders have realized that there is a desire among the Iraqi public for a change, and therefore the strategies of electoral campaigns are concentrating on showing that they are willing to make a change," said Ahmed al-Sharifi, a researcher with the Iraqi Center of Strategic Study.
Many Sunni and Kurdish politicians and even some Shiite political blocs have accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government of pursuing a policy of hegemony and marginalizing its government partners, calling for a change of the government.
However, the mainly Shiite State of Law Coalition, led by al- Maliki, is campaigning under the goal of forming a governing majority, saying internal conflicts in the current power-sharing " partnership" government are the cause of Iraq's political, economic and security crises.
"Together we can reform the political process... We have to make a change on the basis of the constitution to meet the expectation of our people," al-Maliki told a recent election rally for his coalition in Baghdad.
But some critics say the definition of the so-called majority government is ambiguous. If a majority government means one run mainly by Shiites, it would be a dangerous and unrealistic choice for Iraq, a country composed of many diverse ethnic groups.
Al-Maliki's opponents say that the ambiguous idea of majority government is a political approach that would cause more internal division among Iraqis because it would not stop the sectarian and political polarization and would increase animosity among the factions.
A LONG WAY TO GO
Following the last parliamentary elections in March 2010, continuing disputes over vote counting, legal interpretations and alliance negotiations resulted in more than eight months of political deadlock.
In this year's elections, the major sectarian and ethnic blocs have fragmented into many smaller alliances as the Federal Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the "largest bloc," which has the right to form a new government, can mean the largest coalition that is re-formed after the elections.
The fragmentation has led to increasing conflicts among electoral parties about who is better to represent its own communal interests, which only creates more heated political rhetoric.
The State of Law Coalition is widely expected to lead in the elections this time but still will possibly be far away from securing a majority as it faces severe challenges from other electoral entities, including rival Shiite blocs.
"I think (forming a new government) may take one year, not only eight months. Because the problem is bigger than the problem they faced after the election in 2010," said Aziz Shayal, a professor of politics at Baghdad University. "This election may be very complicated in order to convince who accepts the political majority,"
"Who will become the majority? And who will accept becoming the opposition? I think this is a very complicated situation, so it needs more time to negotiate to reach an agreement among those different people," Shayal said.
The Iraqi Sunnis have long accused the Shiite-led government of marginalizing their community and its Shiite-dominated security forces of indiscriminately arresting, torturing and killing Sunni citizens.
In addition, the Kurds in the north are also at odds with the central government over oil resources, distribution of oil wealth and some disputed areas outside the Kurdish autonomous region.
Such profound division and infighting among the Iraqi factions drastically reduced trust among the social and political leaders and created one of the most dysfunctional states in the history of Iraq.
Many important draft laws, including one related to oil resources, remain stuck in parliament due to severe political disputes. The parliament still has not been able to approve the draft general budget for 2014.
The persistence of hostility among Iraqi factions has stirred up sectarian and ethnic division, spurring the country to its worst levels of violence in recent years.
According to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, a total of 8, 868 Iraqis, including 7,818 civilians and civilian police personnel, were killed in 2013, the highest annual death toll in years.
The Iraqi government has garnered over 100 billion U.S. dollars annually for the past several years from the nation's oil wealth, but many ordinary Iraqis are still left deprived of basic services, complaining that the wealth has been either wrongly exploited or wasted by corruption and mismanagement.
Backgrounder: Most influential figures in Iraq's politics
Backgrounder: Major alliances, parties running in Iraq's parliamentary elections
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