People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 16

April 18, 2010

Iraq Elections: No winners.


Yohannan Chemarapally



THE results of the Iraqi general elections held in the first week of March were announced on March 28 after a painstaking three week. The final results gave the largest number of seats to the Iraqiya coalition led by Iyad Allawi, closely followed by the incumbent prime minster, Nouri al-Maliki�s State of Law Alliance. Allawi�s party got 91 seats while the prime minster�s bloc got 89. The results are somewhat of a surprise though most analysts had predicted that no single grouping would get an outright majority. Before the elections, Maliki�s State of Law Party was expected to get the largest chunk of the seats. But the Prime Minster�s decision to support the �de-Baathification� campaign which barred prominent Sunni politicians from contesting seems to have backfired.


Unlike in the previous elections, the Sunni populace came out to vote in large numbers this time and voted almost exclusively for the Allawi led Iraqiya grouping, a coalition of 45 parties, most of them Sunni. In Kirkuk province in Northern Iraq, where the electorate was polarised on the �Kurdistan� issue, the Arab votes, Sunni as well as Shia went to the Iraqiya Party. Allawi on the campaign trail had taken a strong stand against the political and economic concessions being doled out to the Kurd administered part of northern Iraq. The bitter fight for the control of cities like Kirkuk and Mosul between the Kurds and the Arabs was also a factor in the polls.


The alliance between the two main Kurdish parties---the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, called �Kurdistania� won 43 seats. The Iraqi National Alliance came third with 70 seats. The majority of these seats were won by the supporters of the outspoken anti-American cleric, Moqtada al Sadr. To form a government, the support of 162 legislators is needed. The two parties which have emerged on top are no where near that magic figure.


The threat of political instability looms. There was a bomb explosion in Diyala near Baghdad on the day the results were announced, killing fifty nine people and injuring more than seventy. Maliki�s supporters in southern Iraq where he won heavily are threatening to resort to violence if their candidate leaves the prime minister�s office. Roadside bombs have started exploding with alarming regularity again, mainly targeting supporters of Allawi. In Baghdad, a sniper shot dead a Sunni supporter of Allawi who was distributing sweets in his constituency after the election results were announced. The election results have the potential to deliver a deadly blow to the reconciliation efforts that have been underway for the last two years.


Prime Minister Maliki wasted no time in rejecting the election results, saying that the announcement by the Election Commission was only �preliminary� in nature. He insisted that �there was no way he could accept the result�.  He told the Iraqi media that there should be a manual recount of the votes.  The Election Commission has said that a recount would take months to complete. International observers as well as the American ambassador in Iraq have praised the conduct of the elections. The head of Iraq�s independent Election Commission, Faraj al-Haidari said that asking for a manual recount �is like asking for a re-run of the entire election�.



Maliki has reasons to be upset, as Allawi having bagged more seats will be given the first shot at forming a government. Allawi has already started moves to win over other parties. There are no anti-defection laws for Iraqi parliamentarians. The horse trading seems to have already started in Baghdad. Allawi has called on the Kurdish and Shia parties for support to form a government of national unity. He has to stitch together a majority within a month�s time. To do this, he has to convince prominent Shia and Kurd politicians to back him. Having run on a secular platform and having the tacit support of the Americans, this is going to be tough ask.


Besides, Iran, which has a lot of influence over the Shia parties, is extremely suspicious of the antecedents of Allawi. Iran�s national interests however coincide with that of a stable Iraq. Teheran is aware that sectarianism can be exploited by the occupation forces to prolong their stay. The election results have shown that the majority in Iraq have shunned the politics of sectarianism, which was encouraged mainly by the US occupation. Pitting Shia and Sunni factions against each had become the US strategy in Iraq. The hope was that the internecine fight would exhaust the Iraqi people, allowing Washington to implement its blueprint for the region.


If Allawi fails to get majority support, the Iraqi President will call on another candidate to try and form a government. Prime Minster Maliki meanwhile is leaving no stone unturned to cling on to his job. Just before the formal announcement of the election results, the Iraqi Supreme Court to issue a ruling which would allow the interim prime minster to form the new government. The ruling stated that the largest bloc could be a coalition of two parties. This would allow the two Shia led parties-- Maliki�s State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance to form the government.


In any case, most observers are of the view that it will be extremely difficult for Allawi to cobble up the numbers to become the next prime minister. To do so, he will have to cut deals with the Kurdish and Shia parties. The election results have shown that he draws much of his support from the Sunni parties who are at daggers drawn with the Kurds over control of important cities like Mosul. The Sunnis are also known to be not too favourably disposed towards the Sadrists. The Sadrist militia has been blamed for indiscriminately targeting Sunnis till a few years ago.


The Sadrists on their part have not forgotten the military assault launched on them by Allawi when he was the prime minister. Allawi, who also holds a British passport, worked for the Americans during his years in exile. The current prime minister had also launched a large scale assault in Baghdad and Basra on the Sadrist militia. The Sadrist militia, known as the al Mahdi army had fought the occupation forces till a ceasefire was declared two years ago.


For Sadr, who is studying to be an Ayatollah in the Iranian city of Qom, the highest priority is the end of the American occupation. The legislators owing loyalty to him may swing their support for the candidate who supports the speedy withdrawal of US troop from Iraq. With more than forty seats in parliament, their support will be essential for the formation of a stable government. No candidate for the highest post can get a majority in parliament without the support of the Sadrists. They have become the kingmakers. In an informal national referendum organised by the Sadrists in early April, Allawi and Malliki got the least votes. Ibrahim Jaafari who was briefly prime minister, got the biggest support. This development should make him the automatic frontrunner.


Also looming is a fight for the presidency, a largely ceremonial office in Iraq. The president is elected by the Parliament. The current president, Jalal Talabani, has expressed a desire to quit. Anyway, with the Sunni representation going up in the new parliament, there is already a demand that the new president should be a Sunni. Tareq al-Hashemi, who is currently a vice president and a Sunni, has shown his interest in occupying the post. There will also be fierce competition to occupy the speaker�s chair in parliament. There will be a lot of deal making in the coming weeks and months. Most Iraqis don�t expect a government to be in place any time soon, given the fractious outcome of the elections.