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A Fresh Start or an Old Failure? - Iraqi Legislative Elections 2010
True, I have been absent from the pages of SOMA for some while now, trying to make sense of what is happening in Iraq as the country heads toward the 7th March legislative elections...

19 February   |   2010   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

  • ... After all, the 2003 US-led invasion was meant to introduce the rule of law, democracy and good governance into the country. Yet, the electoral shenanigans (and I stress on the plural here as there are many of them afoot) have added to my sense of befuddlement and unrest. After all, is it safe to suggest that Iraq is merely “de-Ba’athifying” itself by getting rid of all prurient Ba’athist political influences traceable to Saddam Hussein? Or is it rather “re-ba’athifying” itself (with a small b) albeit in a somewhat different political format and in a seeming display of revanchist policies?
  • As my readers are well aware, the drama surrounding those 511 candidates out of an overall number of 6500 who were disqualified by the Accountability and Justice Commission, and later also upheld by the Iraqi Independent High Election Commission, were accused of having had ties with the Ba’ath Party. Amongst those proscribed from running in the nationwide elections were the Defence Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi and Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of Iraq’s influential Sunni politicians. Why? Well, it seemed to me - and many political pundits at least here in the West - that some politicians in Iraq such as Mr Ahmad Chalabi, the erstwhile mercurial ally of the Bush-era neo-cons, were figuratively kneecapping their rivals in order to influence the outcome of those elections.
  • Disqualifying candidates for political motives, and in the process disenfranchising one critical segment of society, is alarming since it is vital today to coax the Sunnis back into the political fold and to convince them that the ballot box, not violence, is the answer to their aspirations and grievances. What is also necessary is to hold elections that are transparent and credible enough to allow the American planned withdrawal in summer. The threat of “de-Ba’athification” as an attempt at controlling those politicians one distrusts or who are unwilling to bend to the diktats of political rivals must not be condoned by any political party - anywhere.
  • Nouri al Malki, leader of the Da’wa Party and principal player in the State of the Law coalition, is keen to be re-appointed as prime minister after the elections. But surely this does not mean that he could now overlook potential tyranny in a faint reminder of Saddam Hussein who rained so much violence, persecution and injustice upon his Shi’i community. Surely he knows this on many levels, yet his actions are becoming increasingly arbitrary as manifested recently in the dispute with the Tikrit provincial council when he sent in the army to block the seating of a new governor in order to curry favour with the Iraqi Islamic Party. Or when he allowed the arrest of a leading candidate from one of the main rival blocs in Diyala province because the former had criticised the security forces? Was it not the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who chided politicians that he had had enough of Baghdad politicians and their sectarianism, incompetence, and relentless pursuit of self-interest?
  • If predictions are correct, and I am aware they are fickle, PM Maliki’s coalition will come out as the biggest parliamentary bloc after the elections with roughly 80 seats drawn largely from the Baghdad and Basra 18 governorates, and possibly also Babel, Najaf and Diwaniyah. He will be followed by the former prime minister Ayad Allawi’s Sunni Iraqi Ticket Coalition focusing on Anbar and Salahaddine governorates, as well as Nineveh and Diyala, whilst the Iran-leaning Iraqi National Coalition (INA) will come third. Finally, the Kurdish PUK and KDP joint alliance with Talabani and Barzani will come in as the fourth main bloc by gaining Suleimanieh, Arbil, Kirkuk and Dhuk. Moreover, it will then end up as kingmaker despite the fact that it is facing a major challenge from Nashirwan Mustafa’s Gorran (Change) ever-broadening party within the whole of Iraq. Yet, with a 325-seat parliament, a majority of 163 is required to form a cabinet. This is why many analysts expect that the run up to the elections, let alone the months following it, will witness many fluctuations and possible last-minute surprises.
  • Over the past few years, the current political elites may well have invested their narratives of victimhood as one ropey way of securing power for themselves. But their long-term survival lies not in political vengefulness but in the political stability that follows a process of reconciliation. Otherwise, absent such reconciliation, the spectre of civil war could hover once again on the Iraqi doorstep - a sad legacy arising from a noxious combination of self-interested politicians and an ill-judged American occupation. So the key question for me today is whether the 7th of March will augur another fresh start for Iraq, or will it simply be a simulation of an old failure?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2010   |   19 February


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