Baghdad, 30 Jan. (AKI) – Security for the Christian minority in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul has improved since the wave of sectarian violence there last year, according to the only Christian candidate running in Saturday’s provincial elections, Sami Habib Astifu. He spoke to Adnkronos International (AKI).
“The situation has improved markedly since the Iraqi government dispatched armed forces to the area, and things will improve further once we have a new provincial council,” he said.
The Iraqi polls are significant and could set the tone for parliamentary elections planned in late 2009. They are also seen as a key test for Iraq’s Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
At least 14 Christians died in violence last year in Mosul, capital of Nineveh province, causing hundreds of families to flee the city. Many have since returned.
The situation in Mosul is far calmer than some media reports suggest, Astifu said. “I have been able to campaign freely and to hold public rallies. I was in central Mosul two days ago, and everything went fine.”
He admitted however ahead of Saturday’s landmark polls, there were fears that terrorists could stage deadly attacks against him and other Christians in Mosul.
“The electoral commission even asked me to name a substitute in case I didn’t make it to the end of the electoral campaign,” he said.
He praised new US president Barack Obama and his early moves to increase dialogue with the Muslim world.
“We expected this from his predecessor (George W. Bush) and view it as a positive step, particularly concerning the situation of Christians in Iraq and all Arab and Muslim countries.”
Mosul is home to the second-largest community of Christians in Iraq after Baghdad. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have been forced to flee Iraq however to escape the violence and the economic crisis caused by the war.
The provincial polls are being seen as a key test of Iraq’s stability after years of sectarian strife, as 140,000 US troops prepare to leave the country by the end of 2011.
Nineveh is among 14 out of Iraq’s 18 provinces that will select provincial councils. These elect provincial governors and administrations.
Amid tight security millions of people were expected to go to the polls to elect 14,000 candidates, including 3,912 women, belonging to over 400 parties or groups.
Preliminary results of the provincial elections were unlikely to be available for several days and the final tally may not be certain for a month.
The formation of the new provincial administration is expected to take weeks more.