Baghdad and much of Iraq has been plastered with posters, ranging from the ordinary to the bizarre, of election candidates vying for voters’ attention ahead of provincial elections next month.
Judging by the slogans and appeals on many of the posters, analysts and commentators note, Iraqi political campaigning still has a long way to go, with most making no mention of ideology or policies and many not even featuring the candidate running for office.
For one of his election posters, erected in a town south of Baghdad, Salam Kurdi Abboud is depicted in traditional attire — clad in the dishdasha, the long robe worn in the Gulf, and keffiyeh, or chequered scarf.
Across the poster runs text in Arabic relating one salient detail: Salam Kurdi Abboud is dead.
The poster is asking voters to cast their ballots for his widow, Sausen Abduladhaim Ahmed, a member of the secular Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc — but her face does not appear anywhere on the poster.
There is more of the same further afield of the capital.
In Salaheddin province, north of Baghdad, parliament member Aytab al-Duri, stands clad in a black abaya, or full-length female robe, her hand placed across her heart.
Next to her stands her husband, and the poster reads, “The candidate, Karim Khalaf Mohammed Hussein is the husband of the MP Dr Aytab al-Duri,” but makes no reference to any of his credentials or policies.
“These posters reflect the quality of the candidates,” laments Yasir al-Mussawi, a Baghdad-based journalist, reflecting widely-held frustration with Iraq’s politicians.
“If these are their campaigns — naivete coupled with ineptitude — just imagine what they will be like in office.”
Another Baghdad resident, 36-year-old defence ministry employee Ali Adnan, complains that candidates in Iraq are elected “by proxy”.
“They want to create political families, all at the expense of voters,” he says.
After decades of dictatorship, conflict and sanctions, Iraq has held several elections since the 2003 US-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein.
Its first free polls were held in January 2005, with voters choosing representatives to write the country’s constitution, and most recently, Iraq held parliamentary elections in March 2010.
On April 20, it will hold provincial polls in 12 of its 18 provinces, but parties still rarely clash on ideological grounds, and instead typically look to appeal to voters with similar tribal, ethnic or sectarian backgrounds.
Other posters look to establish candidates’ credibility by linking them — at least on campaign paraphernalia — to well-known politicians such as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, even if they have never met them.
One candidate in Babil province south of Baghdad, Ismail Khalil al-Obeidi, hopes to trade off his reputation as a former player for Iraq’s national football squad, and features his nickname, “the fast bird”.
His poster features him playing football, but in an Inter Milan jersey — a team for which he has never played.
“This is all a result of a big problem in the political process,” complains Tareq al-Maamuri, a lawyer and political analyst, who argues that Iraq still lacks an understanding of modern election campaigning.
“This has led to disrespected figures being elected into office which has, in turn, eroded confidence in the electoral process.”
So while posters on the streets present candidates as studious and hard-working, Iraqis on social networking websites such as Twitter mercilessly mock candidates.
In one instance, a poster features a female candidate wearing an abaya whose face is obscured by a halo, with one commentator writing, “Vote for the amazing woman who no one has seen!”
Other candidates have featured as their slogan, “My province comes first.”
However, in Arabic, removing one letter from the word for province turns it into the word for wallet, a fact that has not escaped Iraqi Facebook users’ notice in a country where corruption is rampant.