Juan Cole, the U. Mich. expert on Iraqi Shiism, analyzes the Jan. 30 election results:  "Allawi's defeat (he will not be prime minister in the new government) is a huge defeat for the Bush administration, though it will not be reported that way in the corporate media." ...

By Juan Cole

Informed Comment
February 13, 2005


Some key election results are now being reported for Iraq. The statistics available point to about 8.5 million voters out of an eligible 14 million. The electoral commission said that the turnout was 58 percent.

The Sunni Arabs (20 percent of the population and the former ruling group) mostly did not come out to vote. Only 2 percent voted in Anbar province, where Fallujah and Ramadi are. (Remember Condoleeza Rice talking about people voting in Fallujah? That was propaganda pure and simple.) In Ninevah province about 17 percent of the population voted, but a lot of those were Kurds and Turkmen. The list of old-time Sunni Arab nationalist Adnan Pachachi, the Independent Democrats, only received 17,000 votes, not enough to seat him or any of his other party members in parliament. Interim President Ghazi al-Yawir's Iraqiyun list got less than 2 percent and probably will only get 4 or 5 seats in the 275-member parliament. Al-Yawir is from the largely Sunni Shamar tribe.

The Association of Muslim Scholars (Sunni fundamentalists) disputed the fairness of the election and the accuracy of the returns. Nearly half of the electorate did not vote (AMS said a majority but this is wrong), and security was so bad that candidates had to remain anonymous, casting doubt on the democratic nature of the process.

The three big winners were the United Iraqi Alliance (about 48 percent), the Kurdistan alliance (26 percent) and the Iraqiyah list of interim prime minister Iyad Allawi (about 13 percent). These three account for 88 percent of the seats in parliament, or so. The other eleven percent go to tiny parties like that of al-Yawir, the Sadrists (Cadres and Chosen List) and the Communists.

Although Allawi's list is among the three with more than two digits, in fact he lost big. Allawi had all the advantages of incumbency. He dominated the air waves in December and January. He went to Baghdad University and made all sorts of promises to the students there and it was dutifully broadcast, and there were lots of photo ops like that. Allawi's list also spent an enormous amount on campaign advertising. The source of these millions is unknown, since Paul Bremer passed a law making disclosure of campaign contributions unnecessary (the Bush administration's further little contribution to "democracy" in the Middle East). Despite these enormous advantages, clear American backing, money, etc., Allawi's list came in a poor third and clearly lacks any substantial grass roots in most of the country. It seems to have been the refuge of what is left of the secular middle class.

Allawi's defeat (he will not be prime minister in the new government) is a huge defeat for the Bush administration, though it will not be reported that way in the corporate media.

The system is set up so that a two-thirds majority is necessary to form a government. The United Iraqi Alliance needs to pick up 18 percent or about 50 seats to go forward. The easy place to get those 50 seats is from the Kurds, who have 70 or so. This step will require that substantial concessions be made to the Kurds, who want the presidency, a redrawing of the provincial map of Iraq to creat a united Kurdistan province, and substantial provincial autonomy or "states rights."

The U.S. now hopes to use the Kurds to blunt the push for Islamic law from the UIA. This is the significance of Allawi's visit to Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and his support for Talabani as president. The Kurds and Allawi together control nearly 40 percent of seats in parliament. They can be outvoted on many issues, but they can't be ignored. Allawi is trying to ensure that Talabani's position is unassailable and to pressure the UIA to give up its own candidates for president, so as to block any rush to Islamic law.

Ironically, Talabani is extremely close to Tehran and has been a client of the Iranians for many years. His alliance with the UIA will ensure warm relations between the new Iraq and Iran. The US, in pushing for Talabani for Iraqi domestic reasons, is creating a Baghdad-Tehran axis in regional politics.

Although a two-thirds majority is required to form the government, it is not clear that it is required for anything else in ordinary parliamentary life. Most measures can probably be passed with 51 percent. The only other situations for which the interim constitution specifies that more than a majority is needed are in over-ruling a presidential veto and in removing and replacing the president. This stipulation would mean that on some laws and other measures, the United Iraqi Alliance could have its way in parliament by just picking up 3 percent of the seats via an alliance with smaller parties such as the Sadrists. So although they need the Kurds at first, they may not always need them subsequently.

The United Iraqi Alliance will press hard for implementation of Islamic law. Although this move will be a hard sell in the national parliament because the Kurds don't want it, one possible compromise would be to let individual provinces make the decision, as in Nigeria.

The Boston Globe cannily points out that the new assembly is open to criticism by Iraqi nationalist groups such as the Sadrists. It writes of Sadr spokesman Ali Sumaysim:

'Sumaysim also has started taking broadsides at SCIRI and the Da'wa Party, the two mainstream Shi'ite parties that form the cornerstone of the United Iraqi Alliance. "SCIRI has one foot in Iran and one in America. The Da'wa has one foot in Iran and one in Britain," he said. "Both are like old men creeping toward their graves." There are also leading clerics not affiliated with Sadr, such as Ayatollah Mohammed Yacoubi, who are pressuring Shi'ite parties to take a more religious position. Yacoubi's top aide, Sheik Abbas Khalifa, explained at the cleric's headquarters in Najaf that nothing in the new constitution should contradict Islamic law -- including inheritance laws, which he said must grant sons twice as much as daughters. "We don't want to see equality between men and women," he said. "This is from the Koran, from God." '

The Sadrists are important in several provincial governments and will represent a small swing vote in parliament. To the extent that they vote with the UIA, they could well help give the latter a majority in parliament on some votes. But their center of power remains the festering slums of the south, representing a well of bio-power that could yet be deployed for extra-parliamentary political purposes if the new government continues to disappoint Iraqi expectations on security and economic issues. The Sadrists are divided on how closely to support the son of the founder of their movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, but they are united in wanting an Islamic government.

I just saw Ahmad Chalabi on CNN declaring his candidacy for prime minister. It is hard for me to see how he could get the post, since the big winners in the election are the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party, and they would have prior claim on the post. Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress only has ten seats in parliament. The only way Chalabi could become PM is if all the members of parliament were heavily bribed (by Iran?). Even then, it is hard to see how SCIRI and Dawa could be mollified over the loss of a post they believe to be rightfully theirs. Chalabi is an operator, and may get a cabinet post or a committee chairmanship. I doubt he will get more than that.

Meanwhile, as anonymous MPs begin to make deals about a country they don't control, Rory McCarthy reminds us what the real Iraq is like as he prepares to leave Baghdad after two years. The humiliation of foreign military occupation and the reality of massive guerrilla violence seem to him foremost in the minds of most Iraqis.