At the gates of Tikrit under a giant billboard of a Shi’ite militia commander, hundreds of Iraqi Sunni Arabs wait in the scorching sun for hours to be searched before being let into the city that was once the power base of Saddam Hussein. Treated as Islamic State sympathizers by Iraq’s Shi’ite dominated security forces and militias, the Sunnis near Tikrit say they feel disillusioned and alienated ahead of a May 12 election to elect a new prime minister. Under Saddam, power was concentrated within Iraq’s minority Sunni community but the tables turned in 2003 with the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the dictator and ushered in Shi’ite dominance, and a cycle of bloodletting and revenge. Six months after the defeat of Islamic State, Iraq’s Sunni Arabs are at their lowest point yet.
Almost 2.3 million remain displaced, while others linger in prisons or without work in half-ruined cities – all collectively suspected of ties to the hardline Sunni militants.
Shujaa Mohammed, 35, a former army bomb disposal expert from Tikrit, said he went to Baghdad when Islamic State seized the city in 2014, offering to help the authorities fight back.
“The commanders said you’re from Tikrit, you’re all Islamic State. I told them: ‘Check our records and punish us if we are’. They just stopped paying our salaries,” said Mohammed, who plans to put a large X over the entire ballot paper on Saturday.