It will have to be coalition ©
By Adel Darwish
Basra- February 2005
Last month's results of Iraq's first free and
democratic vote delivered a clear three-pronged message from the
electorate. First, with a near 59% turn out in the middle of one of the
bloodiest insurgences, and threats by terrorist to assassinate any one
dares to vote, the Iraqis showed their defiance and determination to vote
for democracy and leave the past behind them. The second is a rejection of
the way they were ruled in the past, by central autocracy made of well
off, well to do, strong Sunni autocracy, as two oppressed ethnic groups,
the Shia majority and the Kurds who make up about one fifth, collected
between them the largest number of votes - over six and quarter million
votes or 74%.
Third, and most important; any future government in Baghdad must be based
on a broad coalition; no single faction, or even two, can rule alone.
The good news far outweigh the bad news for those fearing a Shia majority
government in Iraq, the first since 1533. Not only it would, complete a
giant geographical Shia crescent extending from the Mediterranean to
Khybar pass, but also an Iranian style Islamic republic, is on the agenda.
As predicted, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's United Iraqi Alliance UIA,
made of, mainly Shia, 16 parties, known also as the `Shia House`, won, a
majority of votes, nearly 48% - with the Kurdish Alliance KA scoring 25.4%
of the vote, with interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi list IL,
trawling third with 13.6%.
Allocating the 275 seats to the new parliament ( National Assembly) with a
mandatory quarter the seats for women, is complex task under a
proportional representation system. Counted unspoiled- ballot papers
divided by 275 to mark a cut-off figure for a candidate to be in or out-
7471 candidates in 111 lists made of 75 political parties, nine coalitions
and 27 independent candidates contested- by collecting one 275th of the
total vote, or 29,132 votes to guarantee a seat. Votes below the cut-off
figure are recalculated to be added to the successful ones, making it even
more complicated. Voters are likely to be represented by those for whom
they didn't vote, who are less bothered about local issues.
The Shia list UIA won about 140 seats, followed by the KA with about 75
seats and Allawi's IL 40 seats.
The horse-trading started, behind the scene, even before results were
officially declared. As we went to print, it wasn't clear whether it was
going to be a Shia-Kurdish coalition - mathematically the simplest as they
could muster three quarters of seats between them, while only two third
majority is needed to name the Troika, of President and two of his
deputies who, would chose a Prime Minister. But it could be politically
dangerous setting the scene for soliciting Iraq and a possible civil war.
Almost immediately, Kurdish leaders reiterated demands for the presidency
or premiership -- their success made them the indisputable powerbroker in
national politics, serving as a bridge between Shia religious parties and
seculars from other ethnic groups.
Dr Allawi, on the eve of declaring the results of February 13, met with
the PUK ( Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) leader Jalal Talabani, offering
him the Presidency. Mr Talabani is a Sunni Kurd, which will please the
Americans. An Allawi- Kurdish alliance with parties like : the Arab Sunni
list lead by the interim President Ghazi al-Yawar that won five seats; the
People's Union PU(Communist Party) with two seats and The Turkmans Iraqi
Front TIF with three seats; will still be 59 short of the 184 seats needed
to keep Allawi in office, as desired by America, most secular Iraqi's
desire and Iraq neighbours ( except Iran).
Hence a coalition to force a reduction in Shia influence is an impossible
task. It is likely to be an Israeli Parliament style coalition of many
colours, making endless concessions and promises. It will always be a
hung-parliament and only the Kurds hold the key, as an Allawi-Shia house
alliance, leaving out the Kurds will be still four seats short, while the
Shia are bending over backward to invite any willing Sunnis to
The interim constitution gives the new National Assembly the task of
writing a permanent one by August 15- but the parliament speaker and a
majority of the chamber can decide on a non-renewable six-month extension.
If the initial deadline is met, the draft will be submitted to a
referendum on October 15 before fresh polls are held on December 15. It is
this second election that will decide how Iraq will be governed in the
future, and whether it will be a secular federation, a long standing
demand by the Kurds, who have a defacto autonomy for 10 years, or a more `
Islamic' Shia majority with some lose accommodation with the Kurds. But
the first hurdle is still how to establish a workable coalition.
Dr Allawi (and secular ) hope to split the 16 Shia factions in the UIA,
because even if he was to include all the parties outside UAI, with some
unimaginable compromises with National Independent Caders Elite NICE, lead
by the fire-brand Shia cleric Muqtada el-Sadr who fought battles with the
Americans and Iraqi forces can only gather 135 seats.
However, it is not all bad news for Dr Allawi and his US and British
allies. Sources in Southern Iraq report a rapid break-up of Sistani's
alliance days after the January 30 elections , as they came under intense pressure
of competing for the Prime Minister's post by leaders of the main UIA
Interim finance minister Adil Abdel-Mahdi of SCIRI (the Iran backed
Supreme Council of the Iraqi Revolutionary Council); al Daawa Islamic
party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari; former national Security adviser of the
Interim government, Dr. Muaffaq al Rubai; and Ahmad Chalabi, head of the
Iraqi National Congress. Dr Chalabi was the darling of the Pentagon, Until
Nine months ago, when American troops broke into his house and
confiscating many documents as Washington accused him of supplying
classified information to the Iranians. Chalabi's aids ridicule the charge
saying, his call for de-Baathification of Iraq, angered many.
The Americans seem to have warmed up to the idea of getting him into an
alliance with Dr Allawi on order to avoid a Kurdish-Shia coalition. Robert
Ford, who is number two at the Baghdad US embassy, visited Chalabi and
held talks with him early February.
It was an open secrete that ambassador John Negroponte and Mr Ford were
doing their best to keep Dr Allawi in the job as a safe secular hand. Many
secular Iraqis too, say they prefer to see him stay for the sake of
continuity and security. Mr Ford's talks with Dr Chalabi, sources in Iraq
say, was intended to persuade him to join a coalition led by Allawi, who
is related to Chalabi by marriage. Dr Allawi, Iraqi sources say, has
offered Chalabi, a high government office with guarantees that he will be
treated as a senior partner in decision-making. Although, others warn that
Chalabi, is likely to ask for more- loud whispers suggested he was seeking
premiership, and making secrete deals with Muqtada al-Sadr and his clan.
Dr Chalabi himself, who has been loud in his invitation to Sunnis to be
included, wouldn't confirm or deny saying that Sardis ( Sadr larger Clan )
have 21 seats within the UIA, in addition to his three NICE seats.
An Allawi-Kurds, Chalabi, al-Yawar - and smaller parties coalition, with
Talabani as president, is seen as an attractive, one with a stabilising
effect, with also lose deals with others who break away from Sistani's
President Talabani- a Sunni Kurd, would counter-balance the Shia dominated
Parliament. This structure could also help draw the Sunni Arabs in, since
their part participation in the vote, proves the wrong analysis of
treating them as one block or seeing their hostility as uniform. They
boycotted the election, as called for by their own clerics ( Council of
Ulama), or through intimidation by Saddam Loyalists' and foreign fighters
like Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi's, which cost them their parliamentarian
representation. Their boycott was not water tight as a 29% turnout in the
Sunni Salah-eddin province, and larger in the Suuni parts of Baghdad,
where security was better. The interim constitution, gives them a veto on
the new one if they felt they have been discriminated against, while all
parties, including the Shia list, have invited them to participate in
drafting the new constitution.
The incumbent president Yawar, or one of his Sunni men could be offered
the important post of national assembly speaker. While Kurdish support for
Allawi would guarantee a pro-American prime minister at the helm of the
Sistani will certainly fight for a constitution that places the Sharia
above secular legislation - or at the very least one that confirms Iraq's
Islamic identity - but he is not as fanatical as his peers in Teheran
about the creation of an Islamic republic. America is still haunted by the
memory of how the newly-established Ayatollah Khomeini lead Islamic
Republic of Iran in the 1980 effectively cost Jimmy Carter a second term
by delaying the release of US hostages seized in the American embassy in
Teheran until Ronald Reagan's inauguration in January 1981.
America has stumbled before in rushing to promote regime change in a
troubled region, when aiding the Taliban to fight the Russian backed
regime Afghanistan. Later, they became the launch-pad for al Qaeda's
September 11, 2001 attacks, forcing America to fight in a second regime
change in Kabul.
The wind can also change direction. Secular-leaning Kurds are worried that
the Shia clergy would try to impose their conservative southern ways on
the more liberal north. The worries are also shared by many secular-minded
Iraqis, who are sceptical of Sistani's assurance of avoiding an Iran style
Islamic republic. Many believe will impose a conservative,
religion-influenced legal code, if not a theocracy. His website says
beards are obligatory, chess is absolutely unlawful, and romantic chat
between young people of the opposite sexes, even by telephone, is
forbidden until they are officially engaged. His followers also say
``ultra-western'' forms, like women serving in the police or premarital
sex, should be banned, basing the law on a civil code `influenced by
Islam' not taken directly from Sharia.
Many secular Kurds say they do not care what is banned in the Shias' holy
city of Najaf, as long as they are not stopped from serving wine with
meals and holding mixed-sex parties in their region. Some secular-minded
Baghdadis, however, are warning of a nightmare scenario: A Kurdish
``sell-out'', by joining the Shia UIA letting conservatives impose their
puritan code in the centre and south, in exchange for letting the Kurds
keep the bitterly disputed, ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk within a
defacto autonomous Kurdistan. How forcefully- and widely-the clerics
assert their social agenda, could determine the future unity of Iraq.
Sunni clerics' Ulama tone has been more conciliatory. Sunni
parties who boycotted the poll say they want to participate in drafting
the constitution. The progress could be undone if the Shia clergy promote
their agenda too aggressively. Many conservative Sunnis also want Islam to
be the source of law but would differ with the Shias over many details.
The Shias are not silly enough to make laws that appear to derive from a
purely Shia interpretation of Islam, the insurgents may stir up Sunni
sectarian sentiment, even when the nationalist ( Former Baathist) decide
to give up the fight.
A sectarian insurgency, is the last thing Iraqis - and the Americans who
are desperate for an exit strategy- want.
task facing America No smoking gun but America keeps
pressure on * The
Show Rolls on * Hans Blix's text 14
Feb 2003 * who will have the last
Sorting out Saddam ? *
The raid *. Iraqi
Official Statement *. The
View from Britain * American
policy on Iraq in
the popular dictator among Arabs. .
Iraqi Mission in the UN.
British Ministry of Defence
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