The Islamic State has issued a stern warning to any Sunni Muslims planning to taking part in Iraq’s upcoming general elections—don’t.
On April 22, Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, the spokesman of ISIS, delivered a speech filled with lengthy Koranic verses and fiery religious rhetoric. He celebrated European and American “unbelievers being run over, stabbed, or killed in the streets of Paris, London, and Manhattan,” mocked U.S. failures to oust Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad while simultaneously lamenting the defeats of Syrian rebels—most of whom are ISIS’s rivals—at the hands of the Syrian regime. He also denounced the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and the Palestinian Authority as “apostates.” But he reserved his harshest words for Iraq’s Sunnis, who constitute the backbone of ISIS. “We warn you against assuming the debts of those who have committed every form of apostasy. The voting centers and those within them are targets of our swords,” Muhajir said. Stay out of voting centers on May 12, the day of the polls—don’t even walk near them, Muhajir warned Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, who are believed to account for some 20 to 25 percent of Iraq’s 30 million people. Even those who oppose ISIS should stay home rather than “support or assist the rejectionist polytheists or their apostate lackeys regarded as Sunnis,” Muhajir said, referring to Shia Muslims, who revere saints or imams, along with any Sunnis who cooperate with the government in Baghdad.
While Muhajir’s tirade could have simply been the depraved rant of a mass murderer, it would be foolish to ignore his words. An explicit threat from ISIS to target Iraq’s parliamentary elections shows the importance of that vote, and suggests the weakened jihadi group’s persistent ability to wreak havoc in the country. Iraqi media has reported more than 15 assassination attempts against candidates or election officials over the past month. On Monday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the assassination of Sunni parliamentary candidate Farouq al-Jabouri, a candidate running on the election list of Ayad Allawi, Iraq’s former U.S.-backed prime minister. Iraq will bar firearms during election day and close its border crossings and airports for 24 hours before polling stations open on Saturday. Officials know that ISIS may be down, but it is certainly not out.