Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Bloc That Has No De-Baathification Worries

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 17 January 2010 18:55

For weeks, we have been waiting for the formal release of the parliamentary candidate lists by the Iraqi elections commission (IHEC), at which point campaigning for the 7 March elections is expected to start in an official way. Pending the formal certification by the IHEC, Iraqi political parties have mostly refrained from discussing the details of their candidate lists in the various provinces. There is however one exception: The Shiite-led Iraqi National Alliance (often abbreviated as the Watani alliance), which last week began circulating its candidate lists in full.

How can the Watani list be so confident and go ahead with the publication of its candidate lists even before the IHEC has formally approved them? The explanation is very simple, and is contained in the Watani lists themselves: Its candidate number twenty-four in Baghdad is named Ali Faysal al-Lami and belongs to the Iraqi National Congress headed by Ahmed Chalabi. Sounds familiar? Yes, that’s right, Lami is the director of the accountability and justice board that recently moved to bar several hundred candidates from taking part in the elections. No resistance was offered, and today no one in Iraq seems to be making a big point of the fact that he himself is a candidate in the elections! Little wonder, then, that the Watani leaders seem confident about proceeding with the release of their list: It is they who effectively control the vetting process for the entire elections process. They enjoy full support in this from Iran; meanwhile  their leaders are being feted in Washington, where Adil Abd al-Mahdi has just been visiting.

As for the Watani lists themselves – summarised in a rough table below, where the party distribution of candidates is tabulated for the upper part of each governorate list corresponding to the number of available seats in each governorate – a number of interesting trends stand out.

  • ISCI, including its close partners Badr and “Jihad and Reconstruction” (a new collective name for what was formerly “Hizbollah in Iraq”, Sayyid al-Shuhada and various other southern entities with particularly close ties to Iran, now headed by Hasan al-Sari) is generally asserting its pre-eminence within the coalition, at the expense of the Sadrists. Of course, with the open-list system, voters may reverse this, but as a general tendency ISCI now has more top candidates than the Sadrists everywhere except Diyala and Kirkuk (ISCI is not particularly popular in the latter place given its propensity for listening to Kurdish demands, so it may be a strategic decision to stay in the background there). Interestingly, in at least some governorates, the female quota system (which in practice serves to override both party listings and the open-list system by promoting non-winning female candidates) may possibly serve to dilute ISCI dominance, since the female candidates seem more evenly distributed between the parties in certain governorates.
  • The Watani list confirms its image as an essentially Shiite Islamist list, where secular and Sunni participation comes across as ornamental rather than substantial in character. This is seen at perhaps its clearest in Anbar, where except for the top three candidates (including Hamid al-Hayis), the list has been filled up with Shiite Islamists from other parts of the country who cannot possibly hope to win voters there (altogether ISCI won a couple of hundred votes in Anbar in 2005).
  • Also in Nineveh, no attempt is being made to reach out to the dominant Sunni Arab majority. Instead the list is packed with Turkmen candidates in an apparent hope at maximising that segment of the vote. In Diyala, the only prominent candidate that might perhaps appeal beyond traditional Shiite Islamist audiences would be Najib al-Salihi, an ex-general of the Iraqi army.
  • Much like Anbar, the Kurdish governorates appear to function as parking lots for Shiite politicians that are needed in the next parliament but who apparently do not want to compete (they themselves say they are simply “making room for others”). And just like in 2005, they will win seats not on the basis of popular votes but as part of the so-called compensation seats which under the Iraqi variant of proportional representation are simply awarded to party leaders for distribution to their own preferred candidates. On this basis, people like Rida Jawad Taqi and Hamid Muala “won” seats in 2005 on the basis of the 100-200 votes they received in Anbar and Sulaymaniyya respectively; in 2010 similar seats will go to such prominent ISCI leaders as Jalal al-Din al-Saghir (Dahuk) and Humam Hamudi (Sulaymaniyya), and potentially also to several less known Badr “candidates”. These non-elected seats should be more correctly referred to as peerages – Lord al-Saghir of Dahuk, and so on.
  • The candidature of Fawzi Akram, a prominent Sadrist, in Arbil, is however potentially controversial. In a number one position, and with the presence of Turkmen minorities in the governorate, he may well be placed there with the intention of actually capturing votes (unlike, say, Saghir in Dahuk). Akram has been a lot more vocally anti-Kurdish on Kirkuk than the ISCI leadership (who are generally considered pro-Kurdish on the issue), highlighting the centralism/federalism struggle within the Watani alliance and potential complications for the Kurdish–Shiite alliance that nevertheless once more seems to be in the making.
  • Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s Islah front is clearly reduced to a third position, with Fadila fourth, but Jaafari himself is prominently placed as the number one candidate in Baghdad (something that smells of prime ministerial ambitions), followed by Bayan Jabr of Badr/ISCI, Ahmed Chalabi of INC, and Maha al-Duri, a female Sadrist. Other top candidates across Iraq include Adil Abd al-Mahdi (ISCI/Dhi Qar, followed by the Sadrist Baha al-Aaraji and ex-governor Aziz Alwan), Hadi al-Amiri (ISCI/Badr/Diyala), Nassar al-Rubayie (Najaf/Sadrist; he is followed there by ex-deputy governor Abd al-Hussein Abtan of ISCI/Badr).
  • Beyond the four big parties, a more fragmented landscape emerges. INC generally has one candidate in a potentially winning position in most governorates, as has the breakaway movement from Hizb al-Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq) led by Abd al-Karim al-Anizi which now styles itself Hizb al-Daawa (Tanzim al-Dakhil) or “the domestic faction”.  The Tadamun bloc and other Islamist independent parties are not particularly well represented anywhere except Baghdad, and then there are scattered secularists, monarchists, ethnic parties (mostly Turkmens in the north and Fayli Kurds in Baghdad) as well as various local lists (including most prominently the “Justice and Unity” party led by the Shaykhi sect of Basra).
Seats ISCI & Badr Sadr Islah INC Solidarity

& other independ.



Fadila Secular Local Ethnic
Basra 24 6 3 3 1 1 2 2 1 5
Maysan 10 3 2 1 1 2 1
Dhi Qar 18 5 3 3 1 1 1 3 1
Muthanna 7 2 1 1 1 1 1
Diwaniyya 11 4 2 2 1 1 1
Babel 16 4 3 2 1 1 2 3
Wasit 11 No information available at entity level
Najaf 12 3 2 2 1 2 1 1
Karbala 10 3 2 2 1 1 1
Baghdad 68 12 10 7 4 |10 4 3 2 14 4
Anbar 14 5 3 2 3
Salahaddin 12 3 1 1 1 5 1
Diyala 13 2 2 2 1 2 1 2 1
Nineveh 31 5 3 1 1 6 9
Kirkuk 12 2 2 1 4 3
Sulimaniyya 17 7 2 3 2 2 1
Arbil 14 5 3 1 1 1 3
Dahuk 10 7 1 2

*** Rough tabulation showing approximate distribution of top candidates corresponding to the number of seats available in each governorate. The table is apparently best viewed with Firefox; other browsers may intefere with the columns.

As for the candidate lists for the rest of the parties that are not as lucky as the Watani coalition when it comes to controlling the system, it seems we will have to wait a few more days. The IHEC declared on Saturday that Iraqi newspapers would publish the lists of banned candidates on Sunday, which in turn would probably have paved the way for a release of the candidate lists. But who is the head of the “independent” IHEC to make such decisions? It emerged that Ali al-Lami wanted to de-Baathify just a little bit more, so Haydari was apparently ordered to hit the “stop press” button while another batch of last-minute exclusions are under consideration by the IHEC. The lists of those excluded are now expected for Monday instead.

8 Responses to “The Bloc That Has No De-Baathification Worries”

  1. Reidar,
    What is the position of the EU and western democracies towards the exclusions and transparency? I see conflicting reports of European displeasure and acceptance to run the elections for Iraqi ex-pats in 15 countries.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    This is not something I follow very closely, so feel free to supply any links you might have on the subject. In general, I would not expect any very fine-tuned reactions from the EU countries. If anything, they have in the past been even more dismissive of Iraqi nationalism than Washington. For example, they have been in the lead in establishing bilateral relations with the KRG (more so than the US), many of them apparently happy to pretend that Iraq became “normalised” in the very second Obama won the presidency.

    Maybe this particular issue of de-Baathification stands a greater chance of at least being on the radar because it can be framed as a sectarian “Sunni” issue – the key to generating interest for anything in the western democracies it seems, but of course ultimately the primitive game that Iran wants them to play.

  3. Kjetting said

    I would not put to much into the opening of diplomatic represenatative offices in Erbil. This is for European countries mostly related to the issue of refugees (and a little bit to trade as a side-show). As far as I know there are no primary diplomatic representation from any European country there, it is consulates side-accredited to Baghdad embassies deailing with consular matters.

    They have not been profiled or made much of in terms of political recognition, but are more a function of the wish in European states to return Kurdish refugees to Iraq.

  4. ali said

    what i don’t understand is this; it is the IHEC that has the final say when it comes to barring candidates, are you therefore suggesting the IHEC is also illegitimate, non-transparent and should also have its decisions reversed? Doesn’t the de-baathification commission become very much irrelevant or insignificant in this respect? t

  5. Reidar,
    Here are press releases from the EU parliament, I sent you the .pdf by email. Suddenly I get the feeling we’re not alone!

    Exclusion of Salih Mutlak from elections in Iraq undermines legitimacy of elections The exclusion of Dr. Salih Mutlak, leader of the National Dialogue Front, and a number of other political personalities from upcoming parliamentary elections in
    Iraq is a haunting development, reminding us of election shams held under fascist regimes such as the one in neighbouring Iran.
    Dr. Mutlak has been part of the political process in Iraq over the past six years and has been a member of the committee responsible for the Iraqi constitution. The true reason for his exclusion is his uncompromising position against the Iranian
    regime’s meddling in Iraq. The essence of this decision becomes more evident as it coincided with a visit to Iraq by the Iranian Foreign Minister Motaki. I strongly advise the Iraqi government not to allow the Iranian regime to impose its
    policies upon the election process in Iraq that would discredit the legitimacy of the elections. The model of elections in Iran must not be exported to Iraq. Millions of Iranians have been challenging the Iranian regime’s election charade. I express my full support for Dr. Mutlak’s democratic right to participate in elections in Iraq and will closely follow up this matter in the European Parliament and will call on the European Union, the U.S. government and the United Nations to condemn this move and prevent the exclusion of Dr. Mutlak and other political
    figures from the parliamentary elections in Iraq. Struan Stevenson, MEP
    President of the European Parliamentʹs Delegation for relations with Iraq European Parliament

    ISJ condemns exclusion of Dr. Mutlak from parliamentary elections in Iraq, calls to prevent Iranian regime’s interference in Iraqi elections
    The International Committee of In Search of Justice (ISJ) noted with deep concern reports indicating that Dr. Salih Mutlak and the Iraqi National Dialogue Front have been excluded from the upcoming parliamentary elections in Iraq. This has caused widespread anxiety in the European Parliament and parliaments in democratic countries. There are many indications that this is a foul plot by the Iranian regime that is extremely frightened of a free and democratic election in Iraq. One of the objectives of the visit to Iraq by the regime’s Foreign
    Minister was to exclude Dr. Mutlak from taking part in elections.
    A free parliamentary election in Iraq will lead to elimination of the regime’s proxies from many posts in the state and therefore to cutting off the arms of the mullahs in Iraq. The
    clerical regime has turned Iraq into a field for its terrorist and fundamentalist objectives. Exclusion of Dr. Mutlak from elections in Iraq will undermine the legitimacy and credibility
    of parliamentary elections in that country. This is a pattern of sham elections exported by the Iranian regime to Iraq. We strongly condemn this undemocratic move and call on the United
    Nations, the U.S. Government and the European Union to intervene and prevent exclusion of Dr. Mutlak and other democratic forces from taking part in the elections and not allow the future of Iraq to sink in darkness and violence.
    While millions of people are calling for regime change in the streets of Iran, we should not allow the ominous policies of the regime to be imposed upon Iraq.
    Alejo Vidal-Quadras President of ISJ
    Vice President of European Parliament

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Faisal, absolutely, there you go, the European parliament striking a new note! Thanks for the excerpt. What I do not like about it is the form: This seems to have been lifted almost verbatim from the Amman-based opposition media, complete with the easily recognisable Mottaki conspiracy theory etc, instead of marking an independent European position. This in turn reminds me of the recent past, when the voice of the European parliament was entirely dominated by Baroness Nicholson, a British lady who had an opposite agenda – she specialised in Marsh Arabs (whom she believed to be a “separate people”!), Christian minorities, and little else. And so while this is certainly a step in the direction (I personally agree with much if not all of what’s in the statement), on the whole, the stance of the European parliament (which at the end of the day, let’s face it, is not particularly consequential on the ground in Iraq) still comes across as somewhat whimsical and susceptible to unpredictable external influences.

    As I have done before, I would warn Iraqi nationalists against placing too much hope on benign international forces coming to the rescue (solutions involving the UN etc). Those forces are not sufficiently influential in the arenas that count, and all the key players right now appear ready to wash their hands of their affair if they could just find a way to check that “Sunni” box.

    Ali, any pretence of legality has been abandoned a long time ago here; the rules are being made up as we proceed. The IHEC has signalled that it will ban whomever the accountability and justice board wants them to ban, and they refer to the seven-judge appeals board as the ultimate arbiter. Also, Ayad al-Samarraie is trying to convince the Americans that a three-man parliamentary sub-committee can perhaps overturn the decision; what he is not telling them is that the prerogatives of that committee are ill-defined and that one of its three members has already resigned!

  7. Reidar,
    I agree about your comment but I think the carbon copy approach of the EU Parliament may not last long; there will surely be more hot news from

    Iraq and the folks at the EU will have to elaborate a European policy in a more substantive and characteristic manner.
    Regarding your warning against placing too much hope on UN forces, I have a different vision, let me explain. To me, valid census and clean elections are not about saving the Sunnis but about the Kurds and Shias. Census is vital for defining a relationship with the Kurd and only clean elections can peacefully sort out who speaks for the Shias. Clean elections is about Shia leadership, not saving the Sunnis because sectarian segregation is now so complete there is no fear of fraud from the other side. I don’t see the necessity of “benign international forces coming to the rescue.” I propose a role for the UN as essentially a supervisor and arbitor for certificatio and validation of votes and citezenship. Most work should be done by Iraqis, with muslim non-Arabic speaking supervisors on temporary assignments. The only force in the arena that counts is the U.S. who can obtain a Security Council mandate and persuade her Iraqi allies to cooperate. Key players (the EU) can make it a lot easier for the US to follow the option of UN run Census and Elections in Iraq.

  8. David said


    Your analysis looks to me like a case of Iran stealing the US occupation’s lunch. There have been some belligerent noises toward Iran coming out of Washington recently, ostensibly concerning its nuclear program. Maybe this is the real motive.

    In any case the Green Zone disarray is good news, more proof that the occupation political process is a Frankenstein’s monster that will never survive on its own.

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