Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Ambassador Hill and the Decision by Iraqiyya

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 21 February 2010 9:43

It is easy to understand the dilemma for Iraqiyya leaders who gathered in Baghdad over the weekend to decide on the question of participation in the 7 March elections. The outcome was not unequivocal: Whilst they will resume campaigning, Iraqiyya still has complaints concerning the procedure and will continue to monitor the situation, including the fate of a query to the higher judicial supreme council by the speaker of parliament, Ayad al-Samarraie of Tawafuq, regarding the legality of exclusions under article 7 of the constitution. Several candidates who were previously affiliated with the Hiwar front that was led by Salih al-Mutlak before it merged with Wifaq – some reports say as many as 75 individuals – still talk openly about a boycott. This all comes against the backdrop of the latest “elections campaigning” trend: Increasing ad hoc and vigilante de-Baathification in the Iraqi governorates, with stricter criteria coming into effect by the day. If this tendency continues, Iraqis will eventually need to have lived most of their lives in foreign capitals in order to be considered sufficiently “clean” for public service in Iraq!

Before they met in Baghdad, Iraqiyya had been hoping that there would be some kind of reaction by the international community against the almost boundless highhandedness by the de-Baathification board, which has taken the lead in excluding candidates that were seen as challengers to the Shiite Islamist list of two of the board’s dominant personalities, Ali al-Lami and Ahmed Chalabi. This, it was hoped, could in turn both stimulate turnout and make it easier for the secularists and nationalists to return to the political process as a unified front. However, during the visit to Washington by Ambassador Chris Hill last week it increasingly became clear that this kind of warning from the United States is unlikely to be forthcoming. In fact, as shown by the annotated excerpts below from Hill’s press briefing on 17 February, Washington is going surprisingly far in the direction of actually ascribing legitimacy to the recent de-Baathification antics, and this absence of a clearer American counter-position at least goes some way towards explaining the continued ambivalence among some Iraqiyya members with regard to participation in the upcoming elections.

AMBASSADOR HILL: …I think anyone who follows Iraq knows that there are twists and turns to any destination in Iraq. Certainly, de-Baathification was a major issue and a very tough issue, a very emotional issue, but I think we’ve gotten through that issue. The campaign has really started in earnest. There are campaign placards all over every surface in the country, it seems, right now. There are some 6,172 candidates. There are 18.9 million registered voters. There are 300,000 poll station workers. There are 50,000 polling stations spread over 9,000 polling centers….

So the problem has been solved already? Really?? Hill’s focus on placards and statistics reveals a dangerous preference for making the façade tidy instead of taking a critical approach to the real democratic content of the process.

I think everyone is aware of the complexity of putting together coalition governments. At the end of the day, I think we will be looking at a government that has a Shia representation, that it does indeed have Sunni representation, and will also have Kurdish representation. Now, what particular configuration, which parties those three identities will be represented, well, that will be up to the Iraqi voters on March 7th.

Saddam also had Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds represented. Sectarianism in Iraq is a little more subtle than this and Hill just gets it wrong if he thinks this a puzzle where can he check three boxes and then relax. By the way this whole “Sunnis and Shiites” paradigm reached a higher stage of ridiculousness yesterday as AP declared Hiwar as the “Sunni wing” of Iraqiyya, with Ayad Allawi’s Wifaq as its “Shiite wing”!

I would be cautious about comparing these elections to those in 2005. You’ll recall in 2005 we had a Sunni boycott. There are no signs whatsoever of a boycott by any of the communities at this time. In fact, all of the communities have been urging their voters to – their members to get out and vote.

So it is sufficient to the US to see some “Sunnis” show up for a vote? What about the question of turnout among secular Iraqis?

But we don’t see that this issue of excluding Baathist candidates is one that is leading to violence. Frankly, they were able to come together and work out a solution, and I think it’s a solution that most people are living with.

So as long as there is no outright violence the US will be happy with the elections no matter what?

AMBASSADOR HILL: I think it’s important to understand that there are candidates who are unhappy at having been on the list, but there was a process by which they were able to appeal, there was a sequestered panel of judges from the cassation court that looked at these cases. In some cases, they ruled that the people should be able to stand for office; in others, they ruled against it.

Well, two weeks ago that court postponed all the cases and wanted to ask critical questions about the legitimacy of the accountability and justice board; one week later it dismissed all the appeals save 26. Not terribly reassuring as far as the question of political interference with the work of the judiciary is concerned?

QUESTION: Good to see you in person. Yesterday, General Odierno accused two Iraqi officials – let me read the names – Ali Faisal al-Lami and Ahmed Chalabi, who were both key members of the Accountability and Justice Commission, of being clearly influenced by Iran. I’m wondering if you agree with General Odierno’s comments, and are you concerned with Iran’s influence over this process concerning the candidates and the election in general?

AMBASSADOR HILL: Yeah, I absolutely agree with General Odierno on this. And absolutely, these gentlemen are affected by – are certainly under the influence of Iran. These were people, or in the case of Chalabi, he was named by the CPA administrator, Ambassador Bremer, back in ’03 as the head of the de-Baathification Committee. It was a committee that went out of existence two years ago, replaced by the Accountability and Justice Committee. Everyone else understood that they – that that would – that their terms expired with the expiration of the committee, except for Mr. Chalabi, who assumed by himself the role of maintaining his – a position in a new committee to which he was never named.

There are two problems with the way Odierno and Hill address the Lami/Chalabi dimension. Firstly, they tend to isolate these two persons from the wider political alliance in which they take part – the Iraqi National Alliance, which was constructed in Iran in May 2009 with Chalabi as a key mediator between the Sadrists and ISCI. Hence to reduce the Iranian influence in Iraq to two individuals involves a severe underestimation. Secondly, the comments by Odierno and Hill merely express frustration; they are not using the dubious activities of Lami/Chalabi to create leverage with respect to the democratic quality of the upcoming elections by saying what will follow if the elections are fraudulent.

The issue of de-Baathification was – came up in the context of the actual election process being underway. It became a very emotionally charged issue. I think Americans need to understand that if you’re an Iraqi, very few people are indifferent to the issue of de-Baathification. After all Baathists pretty much destroyed that country, destroyed many families, destroyed many hopes in Iraq. So understandably, people are very concerned about ensuring that there is – that Article 7 of the constitution is lived up to and that there is action against Baathists.

In this paragraph, Hill actually goes as far as embracing the jurisprudence of Ahmad Chalabi. The idea of using article 7 of the constitution to exclude candidates from the elections is flawed – primarily because the law supposed to implement it has never been passed and secondarily because the article also covers sectarianism and racism which, if made applicable, would raise the question of a host of possible exclusions including key Shiite Islamist and Kurdish parties. A query by Ayad al-Samarraie to the higher judicial council concerning the legality of article 7 exclusions is still pending; hopefully someone will follow through on this since there is no way the de-Baathification board can get around this issue if an attempt is made to address it in a purely legal way.

I met with the sheikhs in Anbar who are, by and large, Sunni sheikhs. I met with other sheikhs in – tribal sheikhs in Baghdad. I had them over to my home for lunch. And the Sunni tribal sheikhs all said that they are very much in a get-out-the-vote mood. So we do not have a problem as of now in terms of Sunni nonparticipation.

And Vice-President Joe Biden once met with “Sunni sheikhs” who believed in a Sunni federal region “in their hearts” but dared not say so publicly…

AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, I think there are political reconciliation issues across the board. I mean, it is – I think it’s something that we try to be helpful with the Iraqis. But I think increasingly we’re seeing the Iraqis try to deal with these issues. And to see how the – some of the Shia parties reached out to the Sunni during the election law issue, where we had Shia and Sunni in the same room working on the law – in fact, working off the same piece of paper and trying to make adjustments on that piece of paper, showed that the election process, difficult as it is, is making people work together. So I think that – I think elections, if they’re well done, can be a source of political reconciliation.

You had Sunnis (Tawafuq) working with the Shiites in 2005 as well. The problem is, as long as they work within the confines of narrow sectarian frameworks this will be theatre by figureheads instead of sustainable national reconciliation.


More generally speaking, the remarks by Ambassador Hill seem to indicate refusal by Washington to challenge Chalabi and Lami in a meaningful way beyond a little public bluster. That kind of attitude will lead many Iraqis to once more revert to the widespread conspiracy theory to the effect that the US is using their country as a giant dangling carrot in its dealings with Iran, searching for a great bargain or safqa instead of having Iraqi reconciliation issues as a number one priority. Depressing as that scenario is, it might at least help Iraqiyya make a decision on participation: More than ever before it seems clear that no support from the international community is likely to materialise; only a massive voter turnout on 7 March can now reverse the negative trend in Iraq and prevent the country from falling prey to rapacious regional forces.

10 Responses to “Ambassador Hill and the Decision by Iraqiyya”

  1. Salah said

    There are some 6,172 candidates. There are 18.9 million registered voters. There are 300,000 poll station workers. There are 50,000 polling stations spread over 9,000 polling centers….

    But there are 26 voting Form!!!

    In the last election, Faraj al-Haidari estimates turnout across the country to be at 51%. al-Haidari who won’t take accountability, “It’s not our fault that some people couldn’t vote because they are lazy, because they didn’t bother to ask where they should vote.”

    So why these voting forms printed in this number should be match the voter number with small number of voting formes spare? or its ready for rigging?

  2. Sama Hadad said


    What’s interesting is that I have only seen one coalition take the issue of a manifesto seriously – that of Maliki’s State of Law Coalition. I can’t find any other coalition, including Allaw’s, that has anything similar. It makes me question how serious they are about bringing about change and undoing mistakes of the past.

    The State of Law manifesto is available not only in Arabic but English too, for those interested:

    English: (pdf)

  3. Joe said


    A centrist government that incorporates aspects of national reconciliation is of course more preferable for longer-term stability than a government controlled by “rapacious regional forces”.

    But the best-case, in the short term, that we may be able to hope for is simply an election that Iraqis see as legitimate. With regard to that more near-term goal, what about, as you say, “…what will follow if the elections are fraudulent.”? More specifically, what is your impression of how likely it is that there will be a significant complaint or complaints (on the scale of the recent Afghan national elections) that would deem the elections “fraudulent”? In your mind, how would you see a scenario like that playing out?

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Sama, I agree this is important. I am sure Iraqiyya will publish something unless they have already done so; the Iraqi National Alliance seems to be referring to the same old points they adopted last summer, which have been reissued at
    But above all I would have preferred a debate where parties moved beyond this highly predictable A-Z of Iraqi society (unsurprisingly, they are all against corruption and in favour of the environment!) towards focusing on the real sensitive issues, like how to deal with the oil sector, what to do with Kirkuk, how to revise the constitution and so on (where State of Law, too, are vague or say nothing at all). I suspect they are all silent on this for fear of alienating prospective government partners.

    Joe, always the realist… No, I don’t foresee revolution or a return to 2006 or anything on that scale. After all, the government of Iraq has been assisted in building up a quite effective apparatus of repression over the past two years and can employ it against internal enemies if necessary. Rather I envisage a gradual transition to Iranian dominance, maybe so slow that Washington will not discover what is going on or at least experience the whole thing as relatively painless until we one day have two closely aligned governments in Baghdad and Tehran in control of oil reserves that equal those of Saudi Arabia. Also, unless there is a Peter Galbraith equivalent on the loose somewhere in Baghdad then there won’t be an international outcry either (suspicion about the Afghan election result being probably the only thing in this world that I agree with Galbraith about). Galbraith himself is of no use in the Iraqi context, of course, not least given his leitmotif of trying to prove that the governing council of 2003 was in fact a reflection of the Iraqi popular will.

  5. Sama Hadad said

    Thank you for the response Reidar.

    I agree, they seem to have avoided the really sensitive issues like Kirkuk and the constitution. However, if you have a read the document, there is a lot more than just simple statements like before.

    For example, there is what I thought was a novel idea about how to sort out the water problem in Iraq (re:agriculture) – they suggest building dams which catch the higher levels of the rivers during the winters in resevoirs and release them during the summer months.

    That’s a lot more detail than anything I’ve seen before from any party. It at least shows they are thinking about the future of the country rather than just how to score political points.

    In an ideal world, they would also tell us what they plan to do about Kirkuk, etc – but I see this as progress.

    Now if only the other parties, especially the major groups like Allawi’s, Kurds, Bowlani’s can do something similar, we then might have a proper elections debate.

  6. طارق said

    Watch Ahrar Party leader Ayad Jamal Aldin talk about his plan for the future of Iraq here:

  7. Salah said

    Reidar, you giving to much emphasis to political process with special regards to the elections process.
    Now things are coming and rolling. Here today one guy writing from Australia about setting voting offices /elections offices for Iraqi there, this should be read with attentions that these guys have nothing to lose they can do any things juts to rigging the election be in next “government”.

    Let me picking your attentions here, Barazani was met Qanim Alshilabi Iraqi ambassador in Austral as last minutes work which very understandable there are biog Kurdish/ and other northern Iraqi group there.

    Few days ago, an article written by Robert Dreyfuss discussing recent Hill’s talks about Iraq and also Chalabi factor in Iraq, it’s worth reading.

    Traiq brought here Ayad Jamal Aldin who is very a controversial figure who graduated fro Qum, close friend to Khomeini’s Son Hussein wearing turban but he opposing Iranians interfering in Iraq. In an interview on one of Iraqi satellite stations telling his non-attendance of Iraqi parliament meeting for so long because of sectarian divisions inside the parliament!! …..

  8. Feras said


    You talk about the seriousness of “bringing about change and undoing mistakes of the past” and I could not agree with you more.

    However, the Dawa Party has been in government for 5 years out of the 7 years in the ‘new Iraq’. The State of Law Coalition candidates include the current Prime Minister and some current 12 ministers. Could you please explain to me where the change will come from? Did Dawa suddenly realise how to solve the country’s problem after 5 years of rule?


  9. Zahra said


    The Prime Minister is from the Dawa party, but his cabinet, which constitutes 30+ ministers, are divided along ethno-sectarain lines according to the ethno-sectarain quota introduced by Bremer. The PM does not make decisions on his own, but by a vote in the cabinet, so everyone represented in the cabinet shares part of the responsibility for failings. Moreover, and much worse, the PM doesn’t have the right to reshuffle his own cabinet, because the ministers are accountable to their parties and blocs.

    The change that Dawa and many others want is to deal with ethno-sectarian quotas, and give the PM more freedom and more control over his own cabinet. He should be completely responsible for the performance of the cabinet, and that is only possible if the cabinet is accountable to him.

  10. Zahra said

    Another thing, a lot of the failures attributed to the government should actually be attributed to the Parliament, where many members of Parliament blocked legislation that the government needed to carry out its work so that Maliki’s government does not succeed.

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