Post-election politics in Iraq

Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 10:34 am
The elections were pulled off. Lots of Iraqis voted and there will soon be a new Parliment who will select a new government.

What next?

The initial reports are that the Shiite group backed by Sistani-- the United Iraqi Alliance-- will win handily. The US backed interim president will come in a rather weak second.

This raises a couple of important questions.

1) What will the Shiites do? Sistani seems to be more powerful than ever. He has been very wise and disciplined, but he holds quite a few cards and could give the Americans quite a political black eye if he ever gets mad enough.

Sistani has shown no affection for the Americans (other than what was politically expedient). There is no reason to think he will have an American perspective on the future of Iraq. It is certainly possible that he will choose a course of action the US would strongly oppose.

2) Will the Americans really allow democracy in Iraq? What if the duly elected government decides it want stronger ties with Iran or Syria? What if the new government demands foreign troops leave by June 1.

Will America act in accordance with the will of the now sovereign government even if this is against its national interests?
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Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 04:43 pm
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Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 04:49 pm
What dlowan said.
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Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 04:58 pm
Lol - if we all bookmark, and nobody speaks - where are we?

I am gonna try to get some more info on Sistani before I venture - he is, indeed, way powerful - and interesting.
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Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 06:51 pm
We discussed it in Global Issues today. Sistani is a wild card--as I guess ebrown's threadstarter basically said. He has been paying the US incredible lip-service. He has been in line with us, and Allawi, as he spoke out in the Mosques against terrorism, and for a sovereign Iraq. He's either a dream come true, or a gathering nightmare.

He could continue to work for a democratic Iraq, with a wide tent--or he could go straight Islamic on us--and wreck the sacrifices that have been made.

But, I feel comfortable saying that if they say go, we'll start packing.

You could almost say we owe the election to Sistani. I'm worried about one guy (shades of Khomeni) holding such sway.
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Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 07:54 pm
BL (back later! Very Happy )

Interesting topic/
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ebrown p
Reply Sat 5 Feb, 2005 08:01 am
Time Magazine has this very interesting article on Iraq Politics...

The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) makes a 2/3 majority to make a government. The Time article suugests the fight may involve trying to buy the support of the surprisingly unified Kurds.

Another interestig possibility (if the current poll numbers hold up) is that Sistani's group will have the two-thirds it needs to run the show without dealing. Wouldn't that be interesting?

It seems like the US is still pulling levers behind the scenes to give power to its current client Allawi. But, I think the manuvering room for the Bush administration is getting pretty narrow.

Here is a $60,000 question:

Is a democratically-elected, Islamic government who tells the US to get lost and is friendly with Iran a victory for the Bush policy?
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Reply Sat 5 Feb, 2005 07:01 pm
If it is a moderate Islamic Iraqi government--yes, I say.

A freer, democratic society smack next to Iran will hurt Iran more than anyone. (I think.)

More worried about the Kurds wanting to break away.
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Reply Sun 6 Feb, 2005 02:32 am
Ah - according to the New York Times, we have an incipient Shi'ite victory (of course!) and Shi'ite clerics pushing for, basically, a theocracy:


Well, that is a little unfair - they want "Islam to be recognized as the guiding principle of the new constitution".

Hardly a surprise. But:

At the very least, the clerics say, the constitution should ensure that legal measures overseeing personal matters like marriage, divorce and family inheritance fall under Shariah, or Koranic law. For example, daughters would receive half the inheritances of sons under that law.

On other issues, opinion varies, with the more conservative leaders insisting that Shariah be the foundation for all legislation.

Such a constitution would be a sharp departure from the transitional law that the Americans enacted before appointing the interim Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. American officials pressed Iraqi politicians drafting that law in early 2004 to guarantee equal rights for women and minorities. The Americans also persuaded the authors to designate Islam as just "a source" of legislation.

That irked senior Shiite clerics here, who, confident they now have a popular mandate from the elections, are advocating for Islam to be acknowledged as the underpinning of the government. They also insist that the Americans stay away from the writing of the new constitution.

Now - as I recall, there were opinion polls saying many Iraqis wanted a seculalr form of government?

This looks set to be some melting pot for Iraq and for the peope elected to form the constitution.....

Ah - the article goes on to discuss the forces militating against a theocracy - and, it seems, the Kurds have a veto -

And Shiite politicians, recognizing a possible backlash from secular leaders and the Americans, have publicly promised not to install a theocracy similar to that of Iran, or allow clerics to run the country. But the clerics of Najaf, the holiest city of Shiite Islam, have emerged as the greatest power in the new Iraq. They forced the Americans to conform to their timetable for a political process. Their standing was bolstered last Sunday by the high turnout among Shiite voters and a widespread boycott by the Sunni Arabs, and the clerics will now wield considerable behind-the-scenes influence in the writing of the constitution through their coalition built around religious parties.


The constitution is the most dangerous document in the country and the most important one affecting the future of the country," said Alaadeen Muhammad al-Hakim, a son of and spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Said al-Hakim, one of the most senior Shiite clerics in Iraq. "It should be written extremely carefully."

The leading Shiite clerics say they have no intention of taking executive office and following the Iranian model of wilayat al-faqih, or direct governance by religious scholars. But the clerics also say the Shiite politicians ultimately answer to them, and that the top religious leaders, collectively known as the marjaiya, will shape the constitution through the politicians.

Anyhoo - the article is an interesting read....and extraordinarily interesting times....
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Reply Sun 6 Feb, 2005 02:50 am
Do people mind if I put in some background stuff? Sort of to aid discussion?

This is from the Atlantic Monthly (where stuff like "Inside Al Quaeda's Hard-drive" and the threwd on the Iranian hostage takers 25 years on came from).

It is from Sept '04

It is, I think, premium content, so I will excerpt: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200409/gerecht

The Occupational Authority in no way has the authority to choose members for the drafting committee of a Basic Law. In no way does any authority exist for such a drafting committee to represent the lofty interests of the Iraqi people or to translate into law the wishes and basic identity of the Iraqi people, the pillars of which are the glorious faith of Islam and society's values. The current [American] plan discussed is fundamentally unacceptable.

Accordingly, popular elections are necessary so that each Iraqi who is of voting age can choose his representative for a constituent assembly. And then any Basic Law written by this assembly must be approved by a national referendum. It is incumbent upon all believers with their utmost commitment to demand this, and asserting the truth of this path is the best way that they can participate in this process.
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Reply Sun 6 Feb, 2005 02:51 am
Sorry - even excerpted that is long - but I thought it an interesting analysis - and you guys can't read it online unless you subscribe, I think.
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Reply Sun 6 Feb, 2005 04:08 am
Thhis leads to a series of Iraqi .... blogs, I guess....about the election. Not sure if it really belongs here - but I thought it interesting:


Did people know - speaking of Kurds - that the two Kurdish parties united to form a single Kurdish bloc - hoping for a big bloc in the new parliament - Kurdish voter turnout has been very high.

Could this mean a countervailing force to the attraction of Kurdish separatism? Especially if the Kurds end up holding the balance of power between two other large bocs? How would the other Iraqis handle that?

And - an interesting Washington Post article discussing overtures by Sunni groups which opposed the elections towards the Shia leaders, and vice versa:

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Reply Sun 6 Feb, 2005 05:39 am
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Reply Sun 6 Feb, 2005 07:32 am
Professor Juan Cole in the "Boston Review"
This article in the "Boston Review" by Professor Juan Cole (U. of Michigan) about the Iraqui Shiites is worth a read. 200,000 of whom were exiled to IRAN for a number of years! Go to the "Conclusion" and then back to the beginning - if you can spare the time.


"In removing the Baath regime and eliminating constraints on Iraqi Islamism, the United States has unleashed a new political force in the Gulf: not the upsurge of civic organization and democratic sentiment fantasized by American neoconservatives, but the aspirations of Iraqi Shiites to build an Islamic republic. That result was an entirely predictable consequence of the past 30 years of political conflict between the Shiites and the Baathist regime, and American policy analysts have expected a different result only by ignoring that history. . . . "

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ebrown p
Reply Sun 6 Feb, 2005 08:19 am
Thanks all for the interesting links. Charli, the article referenced in your post is a must read because of its historical context.

The Kurds are interesting because both the UIA(Sistani's group) and Allawi are going to try to woo them. I don't think either side is in their long term interests.
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ebrown p
Reply Sun 6 Feb, 2005 08:47 am
Newsweek has this portrait of Sistani.

This article offers a balanced picture. Sistani is both very religious (insisting the consitution is based on Islamic law) and restrained (offering positions for other parties and rejecting violence that may lead to civil war).

You have to respect his brilliant strategy.

He eschews politics until he can march in and save Fallujah from disaster. He not only insists on an election, he also changes the terms and ensures people he supports have the advantage. Through all of this, he has kept his image spotless, yet he has the US by the tail.
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 06:57 am
TNR had this eye-opening feature by a Beirut-based writer on election-time Kurdish politics. Kurdish Iraqi politics has often been highlighted as an oasis of non-violence and enthusiasm for post-Saddam democracy, it notes, but in reality the elections have unfortunately ended up heralding a rather massive clampdown on dissent and pluralism in the Kurdish region.

The reason, of course, is in the breakdown of post-Saddam Iraqi politics, which at first saw a myriad of small parties crop up from their underground or exile existence, into solidly ethnic/religious blocks. The Shi'ites and the Kurds alike, confronted with the continuing violence and insecurity, have unified along lines of collective identity. Democratic pluralism along political or ideological lines has gone under in the process.

With all Kurds eager to put a robust, unified Kurdish front up in the new parliament to ward off the Sunni and Shi'ite slates, for example, the two main Kurdish parties unified in a common list and intimidated any remaining opposition groups or activists into either joining or abstaining from the elections altogether - with violence where needed.

The author fears this may turn out to be the model of development for all of post-elections Iraq. I would add that the Bosnian experience, in any case, showcases an example where post-war democracy coalesced wholly along ethnic/religious lines, with a dominant role for the corrupt, authoritarian cliques that governed each of the ethnic parties. There, it took some 5 years before alternative, even cross-ethnic parties gained a serious foothold, and even then it happened only temporarily, only in the Croat/Muslim part of the country, and only thanks to the insistent "discouragement" of the ethnic parties by the international administrators of the country.
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Reply Thu 10 Feb, 2005 07:03 am
Here's the full article, because I dont think you can get it without subscription:

Northern Aggression

by Annia Ciezadlo

Post date: 01.28.05
Issue date: 02.07.05

To see what Iraq will look like after January 30, just look north: Here in Kurdistan, the election is already over, even before anyone has cast a ballot. The two ruling parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), have carved out most of the seats in Kurdistan's regional parliament. And, in the upcoming national election, most people here will vote for the two partners' combined slate; few have even heard of the independent tickets. "The only thing I know is that the election is between ethnic groups like Kurds and Arabs," says Dashne Khaled, an 18-year-old Kurd from the northern city of Irbil, which is controlled by Massoud Barzani's KDP. "So, if you're a Kurd, you vote for the Kurds, and if you're an Arab, you vote for the Arabs." And, in the PUK-controlled slice of Kurdistan, an old woman declares her loyalty to "Uncle Jalal," PUK leader Jalal Talabani, with an eerie echo of Saddam Hussein's old campaign slogan. Throwing her hands heavenward, she intones, "With my fingers, with my hands, with my whole body, I will vote for you, Talabani!"

Welcome to free Kurdistan, supposedly a thriving democracy in northern Iraq. According to The Washington Post, Iraq's Kurdish region is a "flourishing quasi-state" with "democratic elections and institutions." Other major U.S. media offer similar assessments, and Kurdish party leaders like to tell foreign journalists that their region can be a model for the rest of Iraq. They're right--but it's hardly a positive example: In fact, the region is actually a warning to the rest of Iraq. Kurdistan is a case study in what happens when nationalist political parties consolidate too much power, depriving citizens of what they really want--which, in Kurdistan, is independence.

In early December, the two Kurdish parties announced that they would run together for the national assembly and for the autonomous Kurdish parliament. Together, they formed a unified, unbeatable ticket--giving Kurds about as much choice as if, in last year's presidential election, George W. Bush had decided to merge with the Democrats and make John Kerry his vice president.

As a result, instead of making Kurdistan more democratic, the upcoming national elections are cementing the rule of the dominant parties here--a trend being repeated across Iraq. "Kurds, when they go to vote on January 30, are not going to vote for whoever protects their interests," says Hiwa Osman, a Kurdish political analyst. "They're going to vote for whoever is powerful enough to protect them from Arabs. Shiites are not going to vote for whoever has good governance--they are going to vote for whoever can protect them from the Sunnis."

Kurdistan is still recovering from its last election, held in 1992, when the region was protected from Saddam by a U.S. no-fly zone. After smaller parties were disqualified, the PUK and the KDP both claimed victory, and, in 1996, their simmering hostilities erupted into a full-blown civil war. In the next two elections, for municipal and student body governments, the two parties brutally suppressed any other groups. University students campaigning for Islamic parties were told bluntly by their professors--themselves installed by hacks from the two major parties--to back off or flunk their exams. "The tactics were quite ruthless. They ranged from arbitrary detentions of candidates for several days to beatings--quite severe beatings--of people planning to run against them," says Christoph Wilcke, a Kurdistan analyst for the International Crisis Group, adding dryly that support for parties other than the PUK and the KDP "might be broader than what is apparent."

Today, in fact, Kurdistan resembles a Soviet satellite state. Intelligence agents lurk everywhere, and those who threaten party power may find themselves languishing in prison. Everything is taxed. Party-run satellite channels broadcast endless footage of the party leaders and their press conferences. Independent candidates are virtually unknown. And, if you want a job, from hotel clerk to college professor, you would do well to join your local ruling party. In fact, there are few democratic institutions in Kurdistan. Even the 105-member Kurdish parliament is little more than a rubber stamp; party leaders make the real decisions in the KDP stronghold of Salahuddin--carefully maintaining a continual state of negotiated deadlock--and then notify the supposed lawmakers. "No parliament has power over these parties," says Shwan Mahmood, political editor of the independent Kurdish newspaper Hawlati. "Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani see themselves as above parliament." According to Amnesty International, both parties committed gross human rights violations throughout the '90s, from torture to summary executions.

Hawlati is a rarity in Kurdistan, where the media landscape is choked with shamelessly partisan newspapers like Khabat, which proclaims without irony that it is the "Party Organ of the KDP." Both Khabat and its PUK counterpart, the region's only dailies, revel in excruciatingly detailed accounts of their patrons' activities. Criticism of the party leaders is rare; deviation from the party line is almost never permitted. After the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the parties warned journalists not to call coalition troops "occupying forces," ordering them to say "liberators" instead. "They were calling themselves 'occupation authorities,' so why should we avoid using that term?" laughs Azad Seddiq, host of the popular TV talk show "Didar" ("Interview") on Kurdsat, the PUK's satellite channel. "Unfortunately, we are repeating some of the worst habits of the Baathist regime."

The saddest irony of all is that, free of any need to answer to the public, the parties can afford to ignore the Kurds' most burning desire: independence. While it's hardly a practical goal at the moment--neighboring Turkey, Syria, and Iran have made it quite clear they would respond drastically to such a move--the majority of Kurds want a government that will at least acknowledge that desire. And, before the national elections, it seemed Kurdistan was beginning to liberalize and even to consider acknowledging the popularity of independence. After the Iraq war, a group of Kurdish doctors, lawyers, poets, and exiles founded a mass movement to demand that Kurdistan hold a referendum asking Kurds if they want independence. In two weeks in February 2004, the movement gathered 1.7 million signatures--about half of Kurdistan's population of approximately 3.6 million--supporting a referendum. Their plan was to deliver the signatures to the United Nations that summer and simultaneously hold demonstrations. Many of the referendum movement's leaders also dared to criticize Kurdish party leaders, publishing articles on pro-independence websites. It seemed as though Kurdistan's closed civil society was slowly breaking open.

But then the run-up to the national elections began. The parties cracked down on the referendum movement, banning more mass demonstrations and preventing the local organizers from delivering the signatures abroad. When the United Nations finally deigned to welcome the stateless Kurds, on December 22, 2004, the quiet handover of their petitions garnered barely any attention--just as the parties had planned. "The PUK and KDP are afraid that, if there are mass demonstrations, it will look to the Americans like they don't support the elections," says Kamal Mirawdeli, one of the movement's organizers. "So they put pressure on people in Kurdistan not to have demonstrations."

At the same time, the parties were busy convincing homegrown opposition groups outside the referendum movement to close ranks. The national elections gave the Kurdish parties an airtight argument against dissent: the Shia. By skillfully invoking the specter of Iranian-style theocracy, the two parties have convinced most Kurds--including smaller parties opposed to the PUK and the KDP--that it was their patriotic duty to join with the unified ticket and avoid splitting the Kurdish vote. "Separate lists would lead to internal conflict--and, in the long run, could hurt all of us," says Muhammad Haji Mahmud, head of the independent Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party, which had originally planned to run independently. "If Kurds run in one list, it will help determine their percentage in Iraq, so that everybody knows their numbers, and there will be no split in the vote."

Not exactly the flowering of democracy the Iraqi elections were supposed to encourage. When the United Nations selected Iraq's electoral method, proportional representation, one of its selling points was that it allowed for minority representation. But the necessity of running in a national election, combined with the U.N.'s other choice--making Iraq into a single electoral district--transformed that strength into a weakness. Because the formula discriminates against independent candidates, it encourages small players to form coalitions instead of going it alone. The hope was that, by joining together, parties would join in that great parlor game of democracy, "coalition-building." It worked all too well, with Kurds and Shia congealing into two massive mega-slates based solely on religious and ethnic identity. And, just as the Shia super-slate forced smaller parties to join or risk losing the chance of getting any seats, the combined Kurdish ticket effectively forced all the smaller parties to align themselves with the PUK and the KDP or be lost.

What can be done as Iraq prepares for elections that appear certain to harden internal divisions and keep undemocratic parties in power? Some experts think Iraq's nascent democratic movements would fare better in local elections. In fact, local elections in Kurdistan are the one exception to party hegemony: While smaller parties like Mahmud's joined the combined Kurdish ticket for the regional and national elections, they are running independently on the local ballot. "Iraqis would vote for different candidates if other sects were not going to be a threat," says Osman. "They would vote for alternatives, and you would see moderate elements begin to emerge. Hard-liners of each group would have to move to the center. Instead, because of fear of dominance, we're electing warlords."

Or worse. "For me, it's no different whether we have an Arab Saddam or a Kurdish Saddam," says Mirawdeli. "We need a real, genuine civil society. We don't want nationalism to mask some kind of dictatorship, which is what is happening in Kurdistan."

Annia Ciezadlo is a Beirut-based writer.
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Reply Fri 11 Feb, 2005 12:13 am
And to add to an already irregular election, the announcement of results is going to be delayed because of ballot irregularities. Some three hundred boxes are going to be recounted. It hasn't been reported where in the country these boxes are from, or what, exactly, the irregularities are.

Iraq Investigates Vote Irregularities, Delays Result
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