January 25, 2005

A Sunni Runs for Office and Maybe His Life


New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 24 - The doctor pulled a Czech pistol from his glove compartment on a recent day and walked into the mosque.

His professional mission, he acknowledges, is to save lives, to treat the weak and infirm.

But Dr. Riyadh N. al-Adhadh, a Sunni Arab, is also running for a Baghdad provincial council seat in the elections on Sunday.

He has about as many friends as Julius Caesar on the Ides of March.

Powerful Sunni groups are calling for a boycott of the vote, the doctor's own party has withdrawn from the elections, and the doctor lives in the north Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya, a bastion of the Sunni-led insurgency.

"I've had this for one year, but only in the last two weeks have I started carrying it," the doctor said as he handed the pistol to a reporter. "I know it's useless. If they want to kill me, they will."

Who "they" are is not exactly clear. Two weeks ago, a friend came up to Dr. Adhadh, who has sat on both the Adhamiya district council and the Baghdad city council since June 2003, and said he had had heard people threatening to kill anyone on the local councils.

"They think we're working with the Americans and giving news of the resistance to them," Dr. Adhadh said.

The doctor does not need the headache. At age 51, this short, bespectacled man has raised six children. He served as a medic in the old Iraqi Army and runs a clinic in Adhamiya.

On a good day, he sees 60 patients. On a bad day, he drives his battered powder-blue Volkswagen to an American base to complain in English about mosque raids or detainee roundups or the lack of electricity.

Loyalty to Saddam Hussein runs high in Adhamiya. Gun battles are not uncommon, and the rumbling of American armor is sometimes as ubiquitous a sound as the call to prayer. Graffiti along the lines of "Long live the mujahedeen!" adorn the walls.

"Most of the people here will not vote," Dr. Adhadh said. "I fear for the school here. It's a center for the elections."

"It seems to me that the process of the elections is wrong here in Iraq," he continued. "It's broken right now. The people now are voting for their groups, not for individual people, and this is the mistake of the electoral process. The Shia in my neighborhood know me, they like me, but they will not vote for me because I'm not Shia."

"I know it's important to take part in the process because it's important to represent my people," he added. "We regard ourselves as a resistance, but a civil resistance."

There was one glitch. The Iraqi Islamic Party, which Dr. Adhadh joined after the American invasion, said in late December that it was withdrawing from the elections.

But the party made its announcement too late to strike its candidates from the ballots. The doctor said he had petitioned party leaders to allow provincial candidates to take seats if they get enough votes. He was still awaiting an answer.

He walked into the Abu Hanifa Mosque, where he had an appointment to see the hard-line imam, Sheik Moayad Brahim al-Adhami. The two sat in the sheik's office. A guard stood outside.

American and Iraqi troops raided the mosque during a prayer session in November, killing at least three unarmed worshipers, and the doctor had been trying ever since to get compensation from the Americans.

"Will the elections represent the ambitions of the Iraqi people, or are they just imposed by others?" the sheik asked.

"We know the occupier will still be here, but we'll work despite his presence," Dr. Adhadh replied. "We have to use the occupier himself to help re-establish our country. We'll make sure he repairs all the damage that has taken place in Iraq because of him."