Baghdad, Iraq – Iraqis vote in parliamentary elections on Wednesday as violence across much of the country soars to levels not seen since sectarian slaughter killed tens of thousands from 2006 – 2007.
A group that didn’t exist back then, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has been emboldened and enriched in its war against the government by its involvement in the conflict in neighbouring Syria – and it now holds territory just 65km from the capital, which worries many there.
In a country with almost unparalleled oil riches, there is little in the way of basic services. And the divides between Shia, Sunni and Kurd are said to have deepened since the last vote in 2010.
Even against that backdrop, current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could hold on to power, though he will face a tough election battle and, in a country with forever fractured politics, a difficult period of coalition-building if his party wins enough seats to lead the administration again.
But what of Baghdad’s people? What are their hopes for the elections? And the future?
Al Jazeera spoke to some.
|Dhafar Zuhair Hamed, 39, engineer, in a café in Baghdad’s Mansour district|
|[Barry Malone/Al Jazeera]|
It’s too hard to make a very accurate evaluation. But I hope that a great number of Iraqis will vote in this election. As all of the people in the world know, we have a shortage of basic services, we have a problem with security, we have problems with many things. So I am optimistic that most of the Iraqi people will vote in the elections to try to determine the right government.
I think we have to forgive each other, we have to forget what happened in the past. We have to think about the next stages, not the past stages. We have to cooperate.
Some people, it’s too hard for them to forget. But they have to. So that we can continue our lives.
We have great human resources here, great opportunities for investment. Also, we have a great deal of natural resources. We could be a great country.
|Abu Ali, 43, works in security, in a central Baghdad restaurant|
Iraq is a very rich country and there are many clever and experienced Iraqis. But the current government didn’t ask them to help with the country’s development and it hasn’t achieved anything to improve the situation of our country. But, during the 1990s, when Iraq was under economic sanctions, the government was able to overcome that, achieve things and distribute food to its citizens through rations because it did not want to insult them.
This government is the opposite, working to insult Iraqis through arrests, deportations, murder and not distributing wealth equally. And there is a lot of theft, extortion and bribery.
I now earn about $2,500 dollars a month. During the time of Saddam’s regime, my salary was much less. But it was better then, because now, with the insecurity, I fear for my children and my family. And I fear for myself.
|Awab Basim al-Bayati, 25, student, at Cafe Atraqchi|
|[Barry Malone/Al Jazeera]|
I will participate in the elections because I want to change the politicians who are in government now. And I will vote for one of the candidates in a party that is [cross-sectarian]. There are a lot of good people in that party and I hope that could change the security situation for the better and stop the injustices happening in Anbar, and around Baghdad and Abu Ghraib.
I hope they can stop the bleeding in this country. The problem is that Iraqis are still looking for safe drinking water, electricity and basic services, which were available from the beginning.
People’s demands should be much more than that.
|Issa al-Bayati, 25, civil servant, at Cafe Atraqchi|
After the fall of the former regime, Iraqis’ lives became a big mess. Services became bad, we are suffering at the hands of many bad politicians and we are suffering from external interferences, such as Iran. Some areas also suffer from government neglect – in the Abu Ghraib area, one of the polling stations is flooded with water. It’s sinking.
The security situation was better before, but our freedoms are better now.
|Karrar Malik, 25, shop owner, in his shop in the Karrada neighbourhood|
I will vote because I want to take part in change, which I believe could help to improve the security situation and tackle the explosions, because the current government is not doing enough. I think that it must change its security plans so that the recession can end and we can do well in business. There was a bomb on this street and my colleague’s cousin was killed, blown in half.
I wish I could go out with my friends and come home late. I am a young man, I should be able to live the life of a young man, but that is not possible because of a lack of security.
|Um Hisham, 54, vegetable stall owner, Karrada neighbourhood|
I have not chosen who I’m going to vote for yet but I will definitely participate in the elections.
My only desire is that the security situation improves in my country. I want us to have good lives.
|Ahmed Qais, 32, civil servant, outside sweet shop in Mansour area|
I think the best solution for Iraq is to have a secular government, so I will vote for secular parties. I think, if they were in power, and I could imagine Iraq after 10 years, it would be a better country.
|Ann Qais, 20, student (did not want to be photographed)|
Nothing will ever change in Iraq, especially in politics. So my decision is that I will not participate in these elections. There are some good politicians who want to work for the interest of the country but the bad politicians, who do not want to work for the country’s interest, stop them.
We Iraqis do not want anything from them but for them to provide security. And they haven’t.
Follow Barry Malone on Twitter: @malonebarry