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Cablegate: What Campaigning in Iraq Looks Like

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

082109Z Dec 05

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 004912

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL IZ
SUBJECT: WHAT CAMPAIGNING IN IRAQ LOOKS LIKE


1. With so much at stake, campaigning for the December 15
elections is intense. The security situation weighs
heavily on the campaign, and leaders of the major
coalitions make relatively few public appearances. That
said, we sense there are more public campaign events than
we saw in the January 2005 election. There is also much
more sophisticated advertising on television, although
smaller parties have a long way to go. Many amateurish
parties in January failed to even highlight their list
number. By contrast, all the election slates are
highlighting their list numbers to help guide voters on the
ballots. By contrast, all the election slates are
highlighting their list numbers to help guide voters on the
ballots. There have been instances of harassment,
intimidation and even some murders of campaign workers.
However, most parties have the opportunity to get their
message out to at least some parts of Iraq. A bigger
challenge for them is knowing how to get a message out and
financing that campaign.

2. Here is a sampling of the campaigning so far:

-- POSTERS/FLYERS: Walls around Baghdad and other Iraqi are
covered in posters, often glued on top of posters hung up
by another party the previous day. Posters are a common
and widespread way of reaching voters in Iraq, particularly
since many small parties lack the funds to purchase radio
or television advertising. As an example, a Shia
Alliance poster, with a picture of SCIRI leader Abdulaziz
Al-Hakim and Ayatollah Sistani, contains the phrase "yes to
the future of a secure and prosperous Iraq." Allawi
posters appearing this week feature young adults and urge
them to vote for their future. Recently, negative
campaigning in the form of anti-Ayad Allawi posters and
flyers has appeared, comparing Allawi with Saddam Hussein
and associating him with the Ba'athist regime. One of
these posters shows half of Saddam Hussein's face and half
of Ayad Allawi's face and asks, "Who does this man remind
you of?"

-- TELEVISION/RADIO ADS: The Iraqi TV channels have plenty
of information about the elections, including extensive
advertising by the election commission about how to vote
and how the ballots will be counted. (Comment: there is
nothing even close to this level of detail about the
election process on American television. End Comment.)

TV is another effective way for parties to reach the Iraqi
people, but, since it is expensive, only the largest
coalitions/parties are using it much. Television ads are
very common for the National Iraqi List (Allawi's
coalition), the Shia Islamist Coalition, and the Kurdish
Alliance. USAID has sponsored television spots for all
parties on the al-Iraqiyah network, using the same length
of time, studio, and background for all spots filmed. Some
channels are closely affiliated with the parties: the Al-
Furat satellite network is linked with SCIRI. During a
televised Shia Alliance campaign rally, the lower left hand
corner of the screen blinked an icon of a voter checkmark
above "555". The Kurdish Alliance is utilizing a similar
method on their satellite stations reminding people to
choose "731".

The low-budget TV ads just feature the candidate list
leader as a talking head. Slicker ads feature man-on-the-
street comments extolling the list or its leader. The
slickest ads are from people like Allawi (who probably has
the most ads on the air). One Allawi ad features
individual Iraqis saying they want things like gasoline,
electricity, dignity, water, jobs and the final speaker who
wants a government that does what it pledges to do. Less
verbal but clear is an ad for former Defense Minister
Shalan. It features a young, frustrated musician
attempting to beat out a tune on an Iraqi oud. He looks at
the sheet music but can't get the song right. Suddenly a
hand puts a new sheet of music in front of him and melody
of Iraq's national anthem flies from his strings. The
camera shows the sheet of music, which has the number 511 -
that of Shalan's list.

-- NEWSPAPERS: This is another common form of reaching
voters, although illiteracy rates are high. Many
newspapers are owned or are controlled by the major parties
or major politicians. As examples, the Dar Al Salaam
newspaper in Basrah is affiliated with the Iraqi Islamic
Party (part of Tawafoq); al-Ittihad is affiliated with the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK); and al-Bayan is
affiliated with the Dawa Party. The newspapers will
contain advertisements for their affiliated party (similar
to the posters) and editorials in support of their party or
against their competitors. For example, al-Bayan published
an editorial November 27 entitled "Compare Before Choosing"
that essentially endorsed the Shia Alliance as the best
choice.

-- CAMPAIGN RALLIES: These are less common given the
security situation, but they do occur. Hussein Shalan from
Allawi's 731 coalition told PolOffs December 6 that the
National Iraqi List held a rally in Diwaniyah attended by
2,000 Iraqis, and the Shia Alliance has been holding
rallies in the South led by Abdulaziz Al-Hakim - a recent
rally in Amarah was televised on al-Furat television.
During this rally, Al-Hakim told the people "in this
election, there are some people who want to reintegrate the
Ba'athists;" the crowded automatically shouted "No, No
Allawi." INC leader Chalabi reportedly attended a December
7 Sadrist rally near Sadr City on the anniversary of the
death of Mohammed Sadik al-Sadr; the Deputy Prime Minister
told the crowd that Mohammed Sadik had helped to topple the
former regime and that he (Chalabi) was present to
participate in the event with his Sadrist brothers.
Smaller campaign events do occur: the Unified Faili Kurd
Coalition planned a small rally November 30 in the Faili
Kurd section of Baghdad. The head of the list, Dr. Thair
Faili, told us December 1 he has organized several walks
through Faili districts of Baghdad, stopping to greet
pedestrians and make impromptu speeches as he moves. He
noted security is a risk and he keeps a team of bodyguards
at his side all the time.

-- TELEVISION DEBATES: On December 6, VP Shaykh Ghazi Al-
Yawr (National Iraqi List), VP Adil Abdulmehdi (Shia
Alliance), and Planning Minister Barhim Salah (Kurdish
Alliance) debated on al-Arabiyah television. Al-Hurra held
a widely watched panel debate with 8 candidates last week.
USAID has also sponsored a political talk show "Elect for
Iraq" that appears three days a week on al-Iraqiyah
television with political candidates in front of a NGO-
selected studio audience.

-- MEETINGS/CONFERENCES: On December 1, a political event
was held in Najaf in front of NGOs and the media where
political parties were able to present their party
platforms. In Basrah, 700 women attended an IIP-sponsored
meeting, and 500-600 women reportedly attended a National
Iraqi List meeting in Diwaniyah. Assyrian parties are
reportedly holding townhall meetings.

-- MOSQUES: Shia imams have used the Friday prayer service
to endorse the Shia Alliance, and the Shia Alliance has
been accused of using mosques as campaign offices. The
Kurdish Islamic Union is reportedly conducting grassroots
outreach efforts through mosques.

-- CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS: In a unique gambit, the Sunni
Arab Islamist Tawafoq list is using Ahmed Radhi, the most
popular soccer player in Iraq and a coach for one of the
popular teams in Iraq, in their posters and campaigning.

-- CELL PHONE TEXT MESSAGES: A text message in Arabic has
been sent to many Iraqna cell phones (Iraqna has the
largest subscriber base in Iraq) that states: "The pillars
of Islam are 5, the family of Muhammad are 5, there are 5
prayers in a day, and the number of the Coalition is 555.
Vote, O Shia, and win in this world and the next."

-- WEBSITES: All of the major parties have websites, but
these are of limited use since the vast majority of Iraqis
do have access to the web.

-- OTHER: Parties often utilize vehicle parades with
loudspeakers and banners attached to their vehicles to
reach voters. In Diwaniyah, the National Iraqi List
sponsored a cultural festival. Some parties give out
trinkets: one poloff is the proud owner of an Ibrahim
Jafari calendar urging a 555 vote. However, our general
sense is that the Kurdish Alliance gives the best campaign
souvenirs: one poloff scored a baseball cap with the 730
logo of the Kurdish Alliance, and another got a desk clock
and a day planner for 2006.
KHALILZAD

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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