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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 26th, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

Seven years since the US toppled Sadam Hussein and also the secular Sunni Baath  party from power, and unleashed centripetal forces, it seems that the return of Iyad Allawi with potential Kurdish and moderate Shiia allies, with less emphasis on religious differences, could allow from some steps backwards that make strangely for progress to a more open society.

Iraqi parliamentary elections this month (March 7, 2010) were credible and no evidence has been found of any systematic or widespread fraud during the vote count, the top United Nations official in the country said today after authorities announced the final election results.  Ad Melkert, from the Netherlands and formerly number 2 at UNDP, now the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Iraq, and the head of the UN political mission (known as UNAMI) to the country, said in a statement that Iraqis deserved credit for “an historic achievement.”

The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) of Iraq unveiled the results tonight (March 26th local time) for the national polls  in which more than 6,000 candidates competed for 325 seats in the Council of Representatives. Over 12 million people cast their votes.

Media reports indicate that Iraqiya, the party headed by Iyad Allawi, a former prime minister, holds a two member lead over the party of Nuri al-Maliki, the current premier, in the number of parliamentary seats won – if it holds it will be 91 to 89 for “The State of Law Alliance” of current prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Mr. Melkert called on all candidates to accept the results of the polls and “to assume responsibility to lead Iraq to the next stage of democracy, stability and prosperity for all. Whether winning or losing, participation in the elections has been a collective victory.”  “No election in the world is perfect. There were imperfections and at some places serious issues. We condemn acts of intimidation that have occurred in the course of the process” he said.

In his statement Mr. Melkert said UN officials were confident that the counting process contained the necessary checks and balances, and “there is now a solid basis for ratification by the Supreme Court” of the results.

“All results of almost 50,000 voting stations have been checked at least eight times. On the basis of specific complaints submitted by different entities, specific audits have been held on places with indications of irregularities. Ballot boxes that could not stand the test have not been included in the count. We have not found evidence of systematic failure or fraud of widespread nature.”
Mr. Melkert added that the conclusion was therefore that the overall election process, including the campaigning period, polling day and the count “has met reasonable demands and standards, with errors and doubts remaining within normal margins.”

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, declared that he would not recognize the results. He said he would challenge them in court.
“Some of these results are unacceptable and unreasonable,” he said.

Allawi, a secular Shiite who stepped down as prime minister five years ago, is returning to the center of Iraqi politics as he received millions of votes from Sunni Arabs that did not vote in the 2005 elections, a minority that has felt marginalized since Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

Allawi and his political coalition won Sunni support in part because he is considered less sectarian than other Shiite leaders and was not in office during the vicious sectarian bloodletting that marked the first two years of Maliki’s tenure.

On Friday, today, in Sunni and mixed Shiite-Sunni areas across the capital, where Allawi was most popular, residents shot bullets into the air in celebration.

Iraqis have witnessed five changes of government in the 7 years since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

An estimated 12 million Iraqis voted for their next parliament, which will assume control as the U.S. military draws down significantly over the summer, and ultimately leaves Iraq at the end of 2011.

The process has been clouded by cries of fraud from Maliki and his allies, who invoked the prime minister’s role as “commander in chief of the armed forces” in demanding a manual recount on Sunday. Maliki warned that if elections are deemed illegitimate, the country could descend into chaos.

U.N. and U.S. officials have said that there are no signs of widespread fraud.

Analysts and officials worry that Maliki and his allies are implicitly calling for supporters in the south and the capital to rise up if a recount is not conducted. U.S. officials hope for a smooth transfer of power.

“When one looks at the challenges that this country has gone through you can take some heart from the fact that people seem to manage to survive these challenges, to get through them,” the United States’ ambassador to Iraq, Christopher R. Hill, said in an interview this week. “We try to deal with things in a calm way with the understanding that this is monumental and emotions are high.”

Allawi, who has been tarnished in the past by his alliances with groups that Shiites consider sympathizers of Hussein’s Baath Party, The Washington Post thinks, he might now find it hard to get together with Kurdish and Shiite groups. Nevertheless, he will need their support in order to garner the votes needed to endorse a future government with himself as prime minister.

The two other large blocks of seats in parliament are The Iraqi National Alliance which is an Iranian backed Shiia religious party that includes pro-Iranian cleric Moktada al Sadr that got 70 seats,  and the Kurdistan Alliance that includes both main Kurdish parties – the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which together got 43 sets, but lost 8 seats to a third Kurdish movement called Goran or Change. So, besides of the four main blocks, there are further 32 deputes that are outside those blocks, like the 8 members from Kurdistan.

Frictions between Allawi and the Kurdish block will arise because of the contested Kirkuk region, but even if this gets smoothed, there will not be enough votes in Parliament, as it seems hard to believe that Allawi could get all of the 32 outsiders, so he must chip away from one of the two major Shiia blocks. After all – Iraq has a majority of Shiia and this will show through any democratic process. The UN enthused reception of the results may be factually true, but in practice, from a good election to a stable government – the road is still very long.

The questions that pop up from the American reporting might perhaps have to do with the lack of understanding in Washington of  Iraq in the first place. If Saddam’s megalomenia was the enemy that started it all, then having dismantled his bureaucracy and army, removed all trappings of a State, lead Iraq into the resultant mess. Then insisting Iraq does not fall apart into its three ingredients allowed for the Shiia majority takeover, more instability, and eventually the present correction so that a more balanced State can be born from the ashes, in time for the US to declare mission accomplished, and leave the Iraqis in a state good enough to let them find their own destiny within their own borders.Will the Iraqis be now magnanimous enough to the US and play along?

Will after all of this, Iraq become the first democratic, secular, modern Arab State of the Middle East? Ahead of the potential Palestinian State near the west bank of the river Jordan? Or will Iraq fall back to bickering among its three major ingredients and eventually give birth to Sunni – Kurdish warfare over Kirkuk and an alliance of the two basically more Arab ethnic blocks as in the presently competing two leading blocks?

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