Iraqi army arrest officers amid clampdown on military escorts for election candidates
The Iraqi army announced the arrest of a number of officers who had allegedly joined electoral candidates on campaign trails.
It comes amid efforts to clamp down on military escorts ahead of parliamentary polls next month, following previous accusations of vote-rigging and favouritism.
"The Commander of Chief of the Armed Forces ordered the arrest of a number of officers. The instruction comes in the context of their role in accompanying electoral candidates who were campaigning in different regions," said Lt. Gen. Abd ul Amir al-Shammari, deputy commander for Iraq's Joint Operations Command.
"These measures are part of efforts to maintain distance between the military establishment and ongoing political activities in the country," the general explained.
He said that security provisions were for "election monitors and journalists".
News of the arrests - an apparent attempt to ensure the neutrality of Iraq's security institutions - are compounded by institutional demands to protect voters and candidates, alleged one government official.
The unnamed official told The New Arab's Arabic-language edition Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that the High Electoral Security Council was working with the Electoral Commission to ensure the elections were smooth and peaceful.
Iraqi lawmakers have also complained of intimidation and pressure to drop out of the election race from certain factions.
Jasim Al-Bayati, an MP for the State of Law coalition, called for security provisions for candidates and voters.
Past elections in Iraq have been marred by violence and voter fraud with concerns about security for October's general election.
Last week, the UN envoy to Iraq called on parties and candidates to abstain from intimidation, voter suppression, and bribes - issues that have undermined public trust in the country's electoral process and led to a record low turnout in 2018.
Hennis-Plasschaert outlined efforts by Iraqi electoral authorities with technical assistance from the UN to address these loopholes.
They include vote count monitoring by an independent audit firm and the declaration of provisional results at polls across the country, Plasschaert said.
There will also be a large international monitoring team composed of 130 experts along with 600 support staff. To prevent abuse of electronic voter cards, they will be disabled for 72 hours after a person votes to avoid double voting, Plasschaert added.