Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for March, 2010

IHEC Releases Partial Results for Babel and Najaf

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 11 March 2010 16:39

The Iraqi elections commission today published far less material than had been expected in the first major release of partial results from the 7 March elections. Only two governorates, Babel and Najaf, were covered.

The released numbers largely tend to confirm the leaks that have circulated so far as far as the relative performance of the big blocs are concerned. Total numbers have not filtered through so far, but assuming that the numbers that circulate in the public domain for the biggest lists reflect the lion’s share of votes, the partial results put Maliki in the lead in Babel with around 41%, followed by the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) with 33% and Iraqiyya third at around 19%. The picture for Najaf is somewhat similar: State of Law, 48%; INA, 42%; Iraqiyya, 8%. All percentages should be adjusted slightly downwards since small parties have been omitted from the statistics released so far.

It is interesting that these figures are pretty much in harmony with the “exit poll” published by the Ayn organisation earlier in the week, which had 41-29-19 in Babel and 49-30-7 in Najaf. They also suggest a far stronger performance by Maliki than could have been expected on the basis of a simulation of January 2009 results adjusted for alliance changes, and also a degree of consolidation for Iraqiyya, albeit on a smaller scale. It is however a cause for concern that IHEC needs to ruminate for so long over the numbers before they are released, with continued uncertainty as to whether more partial results will be released before the weekend.

UPDATE: The release of the results seems to have run into political problems. Iraqi newswire reports late Thursday said IHEC had additionally announced Iraqiyya as the forerunner in Diyala followed by INA; the Kurdistan Alliance followed by Goran in Arbil, and State of Law allegedly ahead in Salahaddin, followed by Iraqiyya and Unity of Iraq. If the latter is correct (only a headline to go by at this stage) it would be quite shocking, since an Iraqiyya lead had been expected even if Maliki has given some support to the sacked IIP governor there lately. Apparently, though, these latter results reflect only 17% of the total votes in the respective governorates (and in the cases of Diyala and Salahaddin thus could be affected by enclave-like features of the local geography).

POSTSCRIPT: Also, in fact late in the night on Thursday IHEC corrected the initial figures and put Iraqiyya in the lead in Salahaddin.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, UIA dynamics | 11 Comments »

IHEC Publishes Rates of Participation in the Parliamentary Elections

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 8 March 2010 17:42

[Reporting on the results of the 7 March parliamentary elections will start as soon as IHEC or the leading NGOs start releasing data. Other estimates, leaks and even “exit polls” are of limited analytical value]

The figures of participation in the parliamentary elections just released by IHEC seem to suggest continued high participation in Kurdistan, but growing voter apathy and disillusionment elsewehere in Iraq, particularly south of Baghdad where the rates have fallen quite dramatically since December 2005.  At the same time, it should be noted that these  figures are not entirely unlike those of the local elections in January 2009 which enabled resounding wins for Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad and Basra. A key question will be to what extent Maliki has managed to recoup votes south of Baghdad to make up for the loss of influence that was caused when the Sadrists and the Jaafari wing of the Daawa joined ISCI in the Iraqi National Alliance.

December 2005 January 2009 March 2010
Basra 74 48 57
Dhi Qar 72 50 60
Maysan 73 46 50
Muthanna 66 61 61
Qadisiyya 65 58 63
Babel 80 56 62
Najaf 73 55 61
Karbala 70 60 62
Wasit 68 54 60
Baghdad 70 ? 53
Anbar (IMIE: 86.4??)* 40 61
Diyala 75 57 62
Salahhadin (IMIE: 98.4??)* 65 73
Nineveh 70 60 66
Kirkuk 86 73
Sulimaniyya 84 73
Arbil 95 76
Dahuk 92 80

*The IMIE figures for Anbar and Salahaddin in 2005 seem somewhat high and cannot be confirmed at the time of writing. Numbers for exiled voting have also come through: The overall figure remains steady at around 270,000 but with considerable internal shifts, with the Iranian share reduced from some 56,000 in January 2005 to around 23,000 this time, and the Syrian share up from 15,000 to 42,000. Jordan remains stable at around 24,000; the UK figures have gone down compared to the US.

Meanwhile, claims and counter-claims continue to abound as to who won most votes. No attempt will be made to pursue the validity of these claims pending the release of some kind of official data (partial results possibly later this week); however it is interesting that State of Law and Iraqiyya are making the loudest claims about victories, whereas the Iraqi National Alliance (which together with Tawafuq and the Kurds are quite influential with IHEC) have been slightly more in the background. The key question going forward will be where those votes were won, i.e. whether Iraqiyya has been “Sunnified” or has been able to make inroads south of Baghdad, and vice-versa with respect to State of Law. It is this key question, rather than the number of bombs that exploded on election day, that will indicate whether Iraq has made progress from the sectarian climate of 2005 or whether the same old logic is essentially being reproduced albeit with a slightly more national-sounding rhetoric.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, UIA dynamics | 13 Comments »

Kazim al-Haeri’s Elections?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 6 March 2010 22:38

Among the more overlooked aspects of the Iraqi parliamentary elections that take place on Sunday is the fact that Kazim al-Haeri, a hardliner cleric of Iraqi origin residing in Qum in Iran, enthusiastically supports participation.

Haeri belongs to a particular class and generation of Shiite scholars: He is an old-school Khomeinist. Always loyal to the paradigm of wilayat al-faqih, he has written extensive treatises on the inviolability of the power of the supreme leader, not only inside Iran but throughout the Shiite world. He remained supportive of such views when Khamenei emerged as Khomeini’s successor in the first half 1990s; after 2003 he has formed an important (if not always stable) bridge between Iranian leaders and the Sadrists of Iraq. In this role, Haeri forms the juncture where orthodox Khomeinism and radical Sadrism of southern Iraq meet, and where Tehran has found its best vantage point for domesticating radical Iraqi trends and transforming them into tools of its own interests… Full story at the Gulf Research Unit blog, where Iraq articles with regional dimensions will be posted occasionally. The comments option remains open at this blog, below.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, UIA dynamics | 6 Comments »

Down to the Wire: Maliki Adviser Reportedly De-Baathified

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 4 March 2010 14:25

The big news out of Iraq today is a report that sources in the accountability and justice board say they have written to the Iraqi elections commission (IHEC) to have the name of candidate number 10 for the State of Law list in Najaf, Abbud Wahid al-Eisawi, struck from the ballot paper. Eisawi is a tribal adviser to Nuri al-Maliki.

Regardless of whether this will actually come to pass or not, the case has two dimensions. Firstly it proves that the forces behind the de-Baathification process wanted this issue to define the Iraqi political climate throughout the period leading up to the elections. With exclusions – or possibilities of exclusions – still being discussed at this late stage, one senses a kind of politics that is characteristic of neighbouring Iran, rather than one that is reminiscent of democracy in the liberal tradition.

Secondly, this development underlines the extent to which the Iraqi National Alliance was always in the lead in the de-Baathification process, and that Maliki was following after. Of course, eventually some Maliki adherents in the governorates went even further than INA in inventing new procedures for excluding political enemies.

The question now is whether Maliki will use this affair to make a last-minute, much-overdue public verdict on the whole flawed de-Baathification process. Reinstating some former officers in the army isn’t enough; it is the collapse of the rule of law that needs to be addressed. Conversely, the stance of Iraqiyya, which has been critical of de-Baathification all the way (and one of its major victims) will also be interesting. Rumours continue to swirl as to its possible post-election alliance with INA, which would be a veritable sell-out and a sorry end to the whole de-Baathification affair – an INA creation where Iraqiyya has always been at the receiving end.

The Iraqi elections still feature intra-Shiite competition. But they are a competition in de-Baathification rarther than a contest in national leadership.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, UIA dynamics | 26 Comments »

Pathophysiological Aspects of a Dysfunctional Democracy

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 2 March 2010 23:49

The last couple of days have seen an outpouring of cheerful comments by optimistic observers of the Iraqi election campaign. The high number of candidate posters, it is argued, is testament to a vibrant democracy!

Perhaps the assessment of the Iraqi political process would become more realistic if observers went beyond counting the posters and started actually analysing what is written on them. And a good place to start is of course the wonderful placard for candidate number 24 on list 316 (Iraqi National Alliance) in Baghdad, Ali Faysal al-Lami. Immediately following Lami’s name, the principal item of his resume is indicated: “Executive director of the accountability and justice commission”, also known as Iraq’s de-Baathification board. At the bottom of the poster is a slogan, “For the sake of preventing the return of the oppressive Baath”.

Lami’s poster highlights the way in which the legacy of the de-Baathification process is deliberately being inserted in the Iraqi election campaign, effectively overshadowing many more important issues in Iraqi politics. And even at this late stage, Lami and his allies have the audacity to shamelessly employ the accountability and justice board – which in theory was supposed to be a politically neutral institution – to keep up the pressure as far as de-Baathification is concerned, all the way to election day it seems. On the last day of February, Candidate al-Lami, this time wearing his hat as de-Baathification director, dramatically announced that his commission would publish the evidence against the excluded candidates “at some point before the 7 March elections”, suggesting a crescendo towards a grand anti-Baathist finale on the eve of the poll.

Also the supposedly more neutral state bureaucracy is succumbing to pressure by Lami and his allies. Judge Abd al-Sattar al-Birqadar, the spokesman of the higher judicial council, recently dismissed as “unrealistic” the attempt by Salih al-Mutlak to mount a legal challenge against the de-Baathification board, claiming that the appeals board constituted by parliament was the highest authority in the matter. What he failed to mention – and what the higher judicial council has so far not responded to in a judicial way– is the problem that neither the de-Baathification board nor the appeals court constituted to deal with its proceedings has any authority to rule on exclusions related to article 7 of the Iraqi constitution. The IHEC and UNAMI seem more focused on how to replace the banned candidates instead of considering the far more fundamental problem concerning the implementation of article 7; the Americans, for their part, now appear to be primarily concerned that it is very important that the losers of the elections behave in a polite manner, i.e. that they go quietly.

The outcome of all this is elections whose legitimacy is in doubt even before the first votes have been cast. The secular and nationalist forces keep asking critical questions about the process (including the much-disputed printing of more than 7 million ballot papers in excess of what is needed) and have signalled that they may boycott the political process in the next parliament if the election is fraudulent.

Isn’t it reductionist to focus so exclusively on the de-Baathification process? Yes and no. Often overlooked in the west is the often Delphic character of the political discourse of Iraqi electoral candidates, even in this new age of democracy. It is for example slightly disconcerting that the number one candidate of State of Law in Nasiriyya in a recent, much profiled interview with an American journalist was unable to proffer any substantial description of his party’s political programme whatsoever. Other agendas that transpire in the election debate are disconnected from national politics altogether. Why don’t we take a look at the activities of the counterpart of Lami in Basra, INA’s number 24 there, Wathib al-Amud. He recently began campaigning for the creation of two new governorates to be parcelled out from Basra itself: Qurna and Mudayna (or Madina; some locals reportedly object to the diminutive form). Candidate al-Amud says the two northernmost portions of the governorate do not receive a fair share of the Basra budget. More than 750,000 people live here, he says, which is more than both Dahuk and Muthanna (which in turn enjoy governorate status). If 100,000 signatures are collected, the Iraqi parliament will have to grant them governorate status! It doesn’t matter one iota, it seems, that no such procedure for sub-governorate secession actually exists anywhere in the constitution (the competing project of a federal region for Basra, which is currently on the backburner after its proponents instead decided to fight for extra revenue in the budget, at least has a legal basis). No, Amud, who is propagating a scheme that first appeared around December 2008 in the sub-governorate council of the oil-rich Qurna area, is making it all up and no one seems to care. Much like the situation at the national level, the Iraqi “democratic” process in Basra is full of fantasy and unencumbered by the tiresome inhibitions of law and due process.

Some observers will no doubt see the Amud phenomen as yet another indicator of the prospering character of Iraq’s new democracy.

Posted in Basra and southern regionalism, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 11 Comments »