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Iraqi Elections: Stakes and Aftermath Scenarios

Iraqi elections: Stakes and Aftermath Scenarios

By Tarek Cherkaoui

The 30th of January 2005 is a landmark in the history of Iraq as it is the date of the first Iraqi elections in half century. This crucial vote is drawing considerable local, regional and international attention not for the occurrence of the elections itself but rather for the heavy consequences they can have.

Basically what is at stake is the following:
- 275 seats of the national assembly;
- 111 seats of the regional Kurdish parliament (an institution that exists since the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war);
- and 18 Provincial councils. For this eighty-three slates of candidates have been formed, and more than 7,000 people are running for office.

Earlier comments emanating from the American administration and some optimist observers saw in the occurrence of these elections a panacea that will solve Iraq’s problems and set the pace of Iraq to democracy and most importantly to stability. However the increasing pace of the insurgency with attacks against the American troops skyrocketing such as in Mosul where the US military reported a total of 130-140 attacks and incidents a day,[1] and with the continuing sabotage of key targets likes Iraq’s oil facilities, and a constant campaign of intimidation, car bombs and assassinations, the probability of holding fair, inclusive and stabilizing elections are slimmer than ever.

Yet insurgency is not the sole obstacle to free and fair elections, some policy choices of the successive U.S. administrators of Iraq seem to hold latent and negative shadows over these elections. The major blunder has been to play the ethnic card, giving eminence to Shiites and Kurds while marginalizing the Arab Sunnites. This selectivity in dealing with fragile social and political equilibriums has completely alienated the Arab Sunnites who represent 35% to 45% of the Iraqi population. Also the so-called “pacification campaign” led by the U.S forces, which aimed to deal with insurgents in Arab Sunnites areas has had an enormous toll in terms of civilian casualties and economic losses such as what happens in Fallujah, added to this the terribly harsh methods of arrests and interrogations that were applied to Arab Sunnites as in the sinister Abu Ghreib prison, are all factors that further estranged the Arab Sunni populations. Consequently the quasi-majority of the Arab Sunni political representatives boycott these elections; a strategy that not only deprives the elections from their aspired legitimacy, but also gives a political and moral support to the insurgents throughout Iraq.

Moreover holding three different polls at the same time is in itself a confusing exercise for the Iraqi citizens, who are going to vote for the first time and in many instances don’t know the candidates, their mandates or their programs. In several cases people don’t even know the locations of the polling stations, whose sites have been kept secret until the Election Day for security reasons [2] . Furthermore the choice of the poling mode is also controversial; the system chosen for the national assembly is the integral proportional mode with a single constituency. By making the country a single constituency rather than the 18 governorates, the organizers of these elections have taken the risk to mute genuine regional and cultural sensibilities.

Last but not least the legal conditions of eligibility will not be respected for sure. Following the law regulating the parties and the criteria of the electoral commission, the candidates should not be guilty –either in the past or at present- of illegal embezzlement, be member of the Baath party, or have links with armed militias. Yet Ahmed Chalabi, one of the major candidates of this election is regularly accused of corruption, including by the current provisional defence minister of Iraq just few days ago; Abdelaziz Al-Hakim -another heavy weight of these elections- is still the head of the Badr militia, which is one of the largest Shiite armed militia in the country. Finally Iyad Allawi, the current provisional prime minister of Iraq and the ultimate favourite of these elections, has himself been a member of the Baath party for many years.

These puzzled policy choices and procedures lead altogether to the fact that creating an authentic democracy in Iraq seems to be under these circumstances a pure mirage and a fictional endeavour. In reality many analysts are worried that the resulting options of this crucial voting are likely to be frightening.

The first scenario that is likely to happen is an overwhelming victory of the Shiite list because of the large mobilisation of the Shiite voters that see in the boycott of the Sunni voters in these elections a real chance to change the status quo that prevailed in Iraq for many centuries. This victory will certainly mean a huge Iranian influence over Iraq’s affairs because many of the Iraqi Shiite leaders have been political refugees in Iran for many years and have thus forged a strategic alliance with the Tehran regime. For Iran this represents a golden opportunity to seek the leadership of the Muslim world, as a complete prevalence of the Shiites in Iraq will boost the political weight of the Shiite communities in the Arab world (45% of the population in Bahrain, 30% in Kuwait, 15% in Saudi Arabia) and might provoke a wave of political destabilisation in those countries. This prospect is worrying many leaders in the region, and the king of Jordan has voiced his concern vis-à-vis the prospects of an Iranian hegemony in the region.

The second scenario that might result from these elections is the spectre of partition in Iraq and thus of civil war. This scenario is very realistic as many Shiite representatives such as Ahmad Chalabi have frequently articulated his aim to create an autonomous Shiite region in the south of Iraq. Knowing that the Kurdish north of Iraq is de facto independent, and that the Sunni political representatives are completely marginalized, the partition of Iraq into three micro states Kurdish in the north, Sunni in the centre and Shiite in the south is very likely to happen. In fact even the national army of Iraq that is trained and armed by U.S. led coalition forces is an assembly of Shiite and Kurdish militias, which is another factor that will eventually facilitate the dismantling of Iraq between the different protagonists.

It is sad to say that by occupying Iraq the U.S. administration has actually opened a Pandora's Box. Not only have none of the original intentions of the American strategists materialized, but Iraq has become a danger zone for American Interests. Indeed the U.S. led coalition forces are facing an attrition war and have become a magnet for trans-national terrorism, the oil installations are constantly attacked and vandalized, while the elections that were supposed to bring legitimacy to the pro-American Iraqi leaders have in fact sowed the seeds of civil war and have reinforced the regional influence of the Iranian regime.


Tarek Cherkaoui, originally from Morocco, is a post-graduate student in communications studies at AUT.

1. Anthony Shadid, “Troops Move to Quell Insurgency in Mosul,” Washington Post, November 17, 2004, p.1
2. Alquds Newspaper 28/01/2005

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