Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Jaafari Wins the Sadrist Referendum

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 7 April 2010 11:00

This post will be updated as more information becomes available.

Just a few Iraqi wire reports to go by right now, but if confirmed this would seem to suggest that Jaafari has emerged in the “neutral”, compromise role that Maliki himself played in the UIA in early 2006 (Jaafari’s own bloc having been reduced to a single seat in the next parliament, held by him personally). It would also serve as a reminder of the problems involved in merging INA with SLA, whose break with Jaafari was other than amicable. Additionally, Jaafari’s victory highlights potential complications in the INA-Kurdish relationship: Back in 2006 he was the PM nominee that was “unacceptable” to the Kurds, which led to his replacement by Maliki (who in turn ended up being seen as equally “unacceptable” by many Kurds).

The full results are reported as follows: Jaafari, 24%; Jaafar al-Sadr (the son of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and an SLA candidate), 23%; Qusay al-Suhayl (a Sadrist from Basra), 17%; Nuri al-Maliki, 10%. According to one report, Adil Abd al-Mahdi (INA) and Ayad Allawi (Iraqiyya) did not achieve a significant proportion of votes but others say Allawi got 9%; Bahaa al-Aaraji (another Sadrist, from Dhi Qar), 5%; Ahmad Chalabi, 3%; Abd al-Mahdi, 2%, which would mean a relative success for Allawi among this segment of voters. Also, some reports have Rafi al-Eisawi, deputy PM and the Iraqiyya number one candidate in Anbar, at 2%, which is quite impressive given that he was not listed on the ballot and Sadr City is not exactly considered his home turf.

It should be added that the “referendum”, in which some 1,5 million Iraqis supposedly took part, was entirely impromptu and reports of children voting etc. have circulated. At any rate, the result is probably a good indicator of the stance and the preferences of the Sadrist leadership.

53 Responses to “Jaafari Wins the Sadrist Referendum”

  1. Ali Wasati said

    Reidar, Could this be a blessing in disguise?

    The Sadrists have already come out and said that the results are binding for them and INA as the link below shows…

    Could this mean that INM and SLA will be forced to form an allaince.

    Niether Maliki or Allawi is going to be put forward as the PM by INA. And its unlikely that the Sadrists will back down, as it will be seen as uncaring of what their supporters want, which is not very good for a populist party.

    Now both Allawi and Maliki cant look to INA for support.

  2. Salah said

    In Baghdad most the vote done in Sadar City (Saddam City) this area similar to downtown New York? Is this area representing all Baghdadis?

    Some about Ja’afary

  3. Reidar Visser said

    Yeah, in theory, if we follow the Sadrist argument at least, this makes Jaafari the INA candidate. Note that Jaafar al-Sadr came a very close second though.

  4. Danone said

    I like your blogs Reidar. They are very informative.

    I just hope that no matter what happens that the sadrist’s are in the government. The 3 million people in Sadr city need to be represented because during the past few years the government have neglected Sadr city.

    Hopefully this will now change with the sadrist’s now having a say. Also the thousands of prisoners who got arrested for just supporting the sadrist’s (most got wrongly accused for being in the Mahdi army. I hope these political prisoners will be released.

    Raider I like how you are really fair to all sides and say things exactly how they are. Good on you.

  5. Kermanshahi said

    Is there a possibility Maliki will allow Ja’afari to become Prime Minister as a compromise with the National Iraqi Alliance?

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, I think the rivalry between Maliki and Jaafari is as strong as that between Maliki and Allawi, and quite possibly stronger. If Maliki joins Allawi he will be the main Shiite Islamist in the new government; with INA he is going to get marginalised by old rivals like Hakim, Chalabi, Sadr and now also Jaafari.

  7. Ali Wasati said

    Kermanshahi, why? Why would he, the head of a party that got 89 seats would allow a man who only managed to get 2. What would they be able to offer him? They can give him the presidency, because they promised that for the Kurds.

    I think the situation has either been complicated further, or indirectly resolved.

    If i was Allawi, i would immediatly have a personal meeting with Maliki, hammer out a compromise, offer him the presidency, and form a government between both SLA and INM.

  8. Ali Wasati, That’s good political logic. The problem with offering the presidency to Maliki is: it will freak out the Kurds and the Americans. Another post may be more workable, such as Vice President or Minister of the Interior.

  9. Ali Wasati said

    Faisal I agree it would upset the Kurds, but what can they really do, as for the Americans, I’m not so sure, maybe Reidar can elaborate a bit more about how Americans would view a government that does not include the Kurds.

    However generally speaking, I would think that a man who once held a PM job would see other positions not suitable for his/her stature, except for presidency. But we will have to wait and see.

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Oh, I am sure some in Washington would be horrified, but if they look at the situation objectively they will find that despite the several attempts by the Obama administration at dialogue, the Kurds have not moved one inch on Kirkuk etc. and they still express their preference for a never-ending US presence in a way that has even people in DC feeling slightly exasperated.

    To be honest, being capable of ruffling a few feathers in Washington may not be the worst possible characteristic of a new Iraqi government if it wants to survive domestically. The Kurds have already got much of what they want in the federalism arrangements for the north, and a strong government would probably be in a better position to offer real, meaningful and lasting concessions than one that barely manages to hang together.

  11. Jason said

    Here are my conclusions from the poll:

    (1) ISCI has been completely emasculated of any leadership or authority within the INA, or of greater Iraq. Chalabi and al-Mahdi were absolutely crushed. Seriously, both Maliki and Allawi are more popular within the INA!

    (2) It is also a final death blow to the concept of a Shia federal region, and probably also for Kurdish expansion. The Kurds were counting on ISCI support for greater federalism at the expense of power in Baghdad. Kurdish expansion is now even more dead.

    First Question: Will this elevate Jaafari to a position of leadership of the INA to lead the negotiations from here? Or does Sadr remain firmly in control?

    Second Question: Can you tell us more about Jaafar al-Sadr? Does he possess any expertise or acumen for governing or power, or is he merely traveling on the family name? What views does he hold?

  12. Jason said

    Left out one:

    (3) Maliki very narrowly beat out Allawi as a coalition partner.

  13. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, to your first question, I am not sure whether the ISCI leadership will give up so easily. Remember the way they set up the lists: ISCI was originally by far the strongest force. So it will take time for them to adjust to being merely a junior partner. Also, apart from this result, Jaafari has himself seen his bloc disintegrate entirely in this election.

    As for Jaafar al-Sadr, I have only seen a few interviews with him. I think he is considered able but inexperienced, and I don’t think it’s a secret that Maliki chose him precisely because of his father’s iconic status among Shiite Islamists of whatever background. I think it is kind of like having a Kennedy as vice president for a Democratic candidate.

  14. Jason said

    All: I can’t speak for the Obama Administration, but it seems to me that his objective is for a stable Iraq with a strong central govt that allows for a U.S. exit. I think that some curbing of Kurdish ambition and over-reaching might be secretly appreciated.

  15. Ali said

    It makes perfect sense for the Sadrists to back Ja’afari. He has shown time and again that he is willing to betray everything, including life-long friends, to pander to Sadrist whims.

  16. Kermanshahi said

    Reidar, I don’t think Maliki would be marginalised that easily by other Shi’a Islamists, his party clearly will be by far the largest in a coalition with them having over 80 seats compared to Sadr Movements 40, KDP’s 26, ISCI’s 17, PUK’s 16 and Fadhila’s 6 so he will have the most influence.

    Wasati, why should he? Because he needs to form a coalition, last time the large blocs in the government allowed Maliki, who was a member of a minor party to become PM as compromise candidate. There’s a chance that the big blocs, whether it’s SLC, NIA & KA or SLC & INM, will have to compromise and allow a leader or member of a minor party to become PM.

  17. Jason said

    ISCI and Chalabi might continue to punch above their actual weight if they control purse strings for Iranian money. Too bad there are no funding disclosure laws.

  18. Reidar Visser said

    I was thinking more of cabinet dynamics than the parliamentary situation. The old ISCI-Kurdish alliance might be difficult to get rid of entirely for example, as ISCI would certainly insist on a couple of ministries. I think it is fairly evident that these forces of decentralisation were among the things that made Maliki unhappy about the previous government.

  19. Ali Wasati said

    Kermanshahi, last time the replacement came within the largest bloc, Jafari’s party represents two seats in the third largest party, its quite different.

  20. Jason said

    I agree with Ali. That is why I was asking whether this other Sadr in the SLA is a viable candidate. Are there others in the SLA?

    By the way, if my math is correct, only 22% of the new parliament (57 Kurds & 17 ISCI / 325) favors decentralization (Shia fed region or Kurd expansion). That means up to 88% are potentially opposed. My opinion is that is good for Iraq and good for the U.S.

  21. Jason said

    Sorry, I am having a bad math day. That should have been up to 78% are opposed to further decentralization.

  22. Kermanshahi said

    Jason, actually there are 59 Kurds with seats and 5 Christians which support their own federal region + ISCI = ~25%, but this doesn’t necececerily reflect the views of the Iraqi people.

    Kurds deserved 76 seats, but seat allocation was heavily in favour for Arabs. Now the nr. of votes needed for 1 seat is 48600.57 in Arbil, 42471.5 in Dahuk and 49037.1 in Silemani. I’m not gonna name all Arab governorates but just a few random examples to compare: 36642.6 votes are needed for 1 seat in Babil, 27281.8 in Missan, 34025.74 in Ninawa, 32734 in Muthanna and 37378.91 in Baghdad.
    Also ISCI was short-cut in seats because of the way Sadrists organised their supporters to vote for different candidates to ensure as many candidates make it to parliament as possible. Add the total number of people which voted for these 5 lists (Listi Kurdistan, Gorran, KIU, IGK & ISCI) it could be as much as a 100 seats.

    Also remember the forces of NIA and the Kurdistan Alliance have armed forces under their command while others have merely political representation. The NIA could use this to pressure others or possibly try seize power, the Kurds have forces in Kerkuk, in Mosul, in Khanaqin, Diyala, in northern Ninawa, if a nationalist government refuses to give the inhabitants of these areas a referendum, the Kurds are not going to withdraw. I crisis like the one in Ninawa could happen on national level.

  23. Jason said

    Maybe this is taking a while to sink in, but it doesn’t matter whether it is really 22% or 33% support. Either way it is nowhere remotely close to a majority needed to pass the new parliament.

    I sure as hell hope you are bluffing about starting another civil war. Because I am pretty confident that Obama is intent on winding down the American presence, and may leave Iraqis to kill each other off this time. The Kurdish Peshmerga may be some real badasses, but they may find themselves also fighting the Turks and who knows who else.

  24. Reidar Visser said

    …Also there are limits regarding the relevance of these “what if” questions. I mean, if the US had had single-constituency, PR voting, would there have been an Iraq War at all? The seat distribution system is one which both the Kurds and ISCI voted for, and they are both amply represented in IHEC which administers the system.

  25. bb said

    Reidar – you also fail to mention that Accord opposed Jafaari as PM back in 2006. As did Allawi’s party as I recall. As did the ISCI/Badr votes in the UIA.

    Why are you suggesting that it was only the Kurds?

    Isn’t the main question now whether the Sadrists alliance with Jafaari will result in a split in the INA? Or do you think that ISCI’s Iranian masters in Tehran will forbid this because they don’t want Maliki?

  26. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, no attempt has been made here at giving a comprehensive account of the intricacies of government formation in February-April 2006. The point was to identify possible vetoes to another Jaafari premiership, and the Kurds were certainly among the loudest protestors back then.

    If Iran had had its way, INA and SLA would have merged seemlessly last week. So Tehran may now be trying some kind of plan B.

  27. bb said

    This “referendum” would appear to be an Iranian style election where the outcome is decided in advance? Wouldn’t you say?

  28. Reidar Visser said

    Well there are fewer checks and balances than in IHEC, for sure… But the outcome is still a little ambiguous. For example, assuming this represents the Sadrist leadership in Iraq in some kind of dialogue with Muqtada and maybe Iran, are the 23% for Jaafar al-Sadr meant as an olive branch to SLA? But then surely the 24% for Jaafari are likely to convince Maliki to try to find others to work with outside INA, no?

  29. Jason said

    I think you two may be right. The closeness of the top two may be some weird message that “our people prefer Jaafari, but hey, if you insist on someone from the SLA list then our people will accept Jaafar al-Sadr. So we are giving you two options to joining with us.”

  30. Reidar,
    The Sadrists made some shrewd election decisions recently, I am not sure the referendum is one; it lead as you described to limiting their choices to two PM nominations. Limiting their choice is good if the selection of a PM is near, it is not good when the time too early, it can make it easy to excluding their participation because their choices are irrelevant. Maybe the referendum was a timing mistake.
    Your comment #10: “if they (Washington) look at the situation objectively” .. I wish they will.. Maybe what the Kurds need is a dose of reality: A population census under UN control, I don’t understand how so few miss the importance of a census to the stability of Iraq.

  31. Ali Wasati said

    Faisal I agree with you, i dont think INA is that important, or 39 seats of the Sadrists, not if Allawi now decided to look else where to secure his own premiership.

    Has anyone heard anything yet about the INM or SLA reaction to the referendum?

  32. Reidar Visser said

    Humam Hamudi (ISCI) is apparently trying to put a brave face on today, saying the INA/SOL rapprochement is making headway…

  33. Jason said

    Rigging the referendum would also explain the extreme inconsistency of how Jaafari did so much better than he did in the general election. This suggests that the referendum is not at all representative of INA constituents, but purely Sadr’s manipulation.

    It would also explain how ISCI and Chalabi performed so much worse than Maliki and Allawi, which seems unlikely. It looks like an internal battle for power, and Sadr just walloped them.

  34. Kermanshahi said

    Jason, you talk about me bluffing as if I am the supreme commander of all Kurdish and Islamist forces. For one the Kurds would rather go to war than live under Arab domination and al-Sadr and al-Hakim might very well try to use their armed forces to aqcuire power. Also keep an eye on the awakening militia, they seem to accept their defeat this time however in January 2009 both Abu Risha and Hamid Hayes were threatening with violence if demands in representation weren’t met.

    Reidar, the Kurds might have voted for it, but that still doesn’t make a system were one ethnic group get’s 20 seats less than they should have had and the other get’s 20 seats more, fare. On average an Arab vote is worth 1.4x a Kurdish vote, I don’t call that fair elections, infact it reminds me of the undemocratic system in Lebanon where 25% of the population (Christians) are entitled to 50% of the seats, with 65% of the population (Muslims) entitled to 40%.

    Bb, I think it should be clear by now the Iranian elections were not rigged as it becomes more and more evident how little public support Mousavi actually had when his “Green Revolution” failed to ever get a crowd of 1000 men outside Tehran and they failed even in Tehran due to lack of public support. His only evidence of fraud wast that Ahmadinejad won higher percentages in (previously) reformist provinces, than last time (not mentioning the fact that there were 7 candidates last time, including 5 major ones and there were only 4 candidates this time including 2 major ones), bu that logic this Iraqi election is definetly rigged since Allawi won more votes than list time.

    But it’s negative influence on other countries is that Mousavi has now set a trend that every candidate which loses an election should claim fraud regardless of anything, even if he is himself the Prime Minister (like Maliki), sadly this will hurt any emerging democracy in the region.

  35. Jason said

    Faisal and Ali, It is actually a pretty shrewd ploy to try to leverage in a very religious PM (against the will of most Iraqis – even his own people didn’t support Jaafari), but I also agree that it could backfire spectacularly if it pushes Maliki closer to Allawi. The next move is for Maliki to make. Ah, what a chess game.

  36. Jason said

    K, comparing the election in Iraq to the one in Iran where all of the candidates were handpicked by Khamenei to start with, is like comparing a basket of clean beautiful fruit to a pile of dogshit.

  37. Kermanshahi said

    Jason, the Iranian elections are fair but not free, but this time the Iraqi elections weren’t very free either, were they….
    Anyway, I’m not claiming Iran is more democratic than Iraq but I was responding to a claim by Bb of vote rigging (the baseless claim made by Mousavi cause he lost). Ofcourse I agree Iraq is currently more democratic (though the differences are not very extreme) than Iran and also any of it’s other neighbours.

    BTW, candidates are not handpicked by Khamenei, it’s slightly more complicated than that, he’s no sole dictator but there are several blocs of clerics, the Guardian Council, the Assembly of Experts, the Expediency council, all comprised of powerfull Ayatollahs, Khamenei is the most powerfull, but the others voted him in and can vote him out.

  38. Ali Wasati said

    This is a different topic, but among the shia circles it has been stated that Saudi, Syrian intellegince played a role in taking away seats from Maliki, by infiltrating people who input the data, however personally when looking at the results by regions, it seems fair. I was not expecting INA or SLA to make headways in sunni arears, but i did expect Allawi to gain a few seats in shia arears.

    In regards to Jafari being selected as the PM, i really doubt it will happen.

  39. Ali Wasati said

    Reidar, apparently Syed Sistani is endorsing the participation of everyone in the next government

  40. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, if you look carefully beyond the headline, the support that is being offered so far is not that strong or specific.

    Most of this is based on the words of an adviser to Talabani. It is noteworthy that it is often necessary to take Talabani with a pinch of a salt since he is in the habit of exaggerating and frequently has been forced to retract some of his statements.

  41. Jason said

    Hakim and Talabani both have reason to cheer loudly for a unity govt if there is a possibility they are slipping in the negotiations.

  42. Joel Wing said


    It’s extremely unlikely that any votes cast in the referendum were actually used to decide the outcome. The Sadrists were said to support Jaafari or Jaaf al-Sadr for prime minister before the idea of the referendum even came up, so it was no surprise that they finished 1 and 2.

  43. Jason said

    Joel, if the Sadrists are that transparently corrupt that they cheated their own constituents of a voice, then they have no business participating in parliament, much less the governing coalition.

    Ali, the Saudis need to send their intelligence officers for some remedial math lessons because they allowed too many votes to go to the INA. /with sarcasm/

  44. Kermanshahi said

    If there was any cheating, they didn’t allow to many votes to go to the INA at all. The INA preformed much worse than expected having lost 5 governorates to Maliki since 2009, they lost 50 seats and 4 milion votes since 2005, they came third place instead of first or second and were a distant third rather than a close second (which was the least they expected to do).

  45. Ali Wasati said

    Jason, that brought a smile to my face (-: the Saudis need a lot of lessons in a lot of things.

    I also feel its unlikely that there was wide and systematic fruad. Little…yes, but not enough to change the whole game.

    As for the referendum, I agree with Joel, it all looks too fishy to me.

  46. Joel Wing said

    To begin with the sadrists claim twice as many people voted in their referendum as they got votes in march. 2nd based upon their claim that 1.4 million voted and the %s they gave for each candidate almost all of them got far more votes in te referendum than they got in march as well. The referndum is like the primaries they ran in 2009, they’re meant to give a vaneer of public support fo what the leadership already decided upon. It’s just a show.

  47. Reidar Visser said

    Joel, whilst I totally agree that the “referendum” is likely to have been heavily doctored, it isnt’t really possible to compare the numbers from March (assuming you use the number of personal votes for Sadrists to extrapolate a theoretical “Sadrist share” of the votes) with that of a referendum – for the simple reason that the March vote was a hybrid list/individual system whereas this was a straightforward vote on candidates. The way you do it implies any 316 slate without a Sadrist cross on it was an anti-Sadrist vote, which would be incorrect since it was perfectly possible for a Sadrist supporter to turn in a 316 ballot without specifying a candidate preference. The unchecked 316 vote is no more an ISCI vote than a Sadrist vote, to put it that way, and the only “Sadrist” share that can be calculated from the 7 March is their share of the (limited) segment of voters that decided to express a special candidate preference, which is optional under the open-list system. True, some of their leaders went far in the direction of encouraging this particular type of voting, but that doesn’t mean they were able to dictate every Sadrist supporter in this way.

    For the same reason, one cannot compare the individual scores obtained in March with those in the referendum.

    But again, I agree with respect to the general suspect circumstances of the referendum and I wonder whether any comparison can be made at all… Although it has to be said that the Sadrists are the only group in Iraq that have been able to demonstrate a loyal electorate and I don’t think they can fool them completely either.

  48. Ali Wasati said

    Reidar, I have notices that the political parties such as INA and SLA quiten down since the referendum results, also we have not heard much from HAkeem or KA. Have you heard any official response yet from those political blocs. What is the Kurds view in regards to Jafari, what has INM said etc, thanks

  49. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, more on this later, but briefly, Hakim held a meeting with Jaafari yesterday and afterwards still highlighted the prospect of INA/SLA/KA getting together “with a bridge reaching out to Iraqiyya”. They may not like the rise of Jaafari but they surely like the question mark that the Sadrists have attached to Maliki’s candidacy.

    I suspect same thing for the Kurds. Mahmud Uthman has been somewhat Delphic about it, alluding to the negative stance the Kurds had with respect to Jaafari in 2005 but at the same time hinting about the need to study the subject more carefully… Objections to Jaafari notwithstanding, some in the Kurdish camp will probably always be attracted to any sign of disintegration in Baghdad – and in this case the emergence of a “third” (and presumably “weak”) alternative to Allawi and Maliki, neither of whom is strongly favoured by the Kurds.

  50. Jason said

    Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but the impression left from the last Jaafari term is that it was a disaster, that he was quoting poetry while Sadr’s thugs were running roughshod all around him with corruption. SURELY, Jaafari is an absolute non-starter!?

    Hakim seems to be making a lot of proclamations in the news for someone who lost miserably in both the election and the referendum.

  51. Ali Wasati said

    Jason, I remember that was the general view, his reign was remembered by huge increase in secterian violence.

    However to be fair to him, it was the period he was PM, I mean this was before the surge, he took office to a worse time than it is now. The Democratic process was still in its infancy, the Shia Shrine did get blown up, Iraq was more divided, and it was only roughly for 10 months he was a PM, so he did not have that much time to make a difference. However in Iraq they call him Aristotle (due to his extremely complex oratory style) and is seen as week.

    I guess we cant be that sure untill he is tested for a full term, Maliki only achieved gains two years after being a PM. Reidar would know better though.

  52. Kermanshahi said

    I think people are being unfair on Jaafari here, he was only president for a very short time and this was during the height of the civil war, it wasn’t his fault what was happening then, it depended on a lot of things. Also Maliki is claiming a lot of false credit for brining security, this is mostly to the credit of the awakening militia and also the American military campaign (which Maliki didn’t have that much say in) and the Iranian brokered Sadrist cease-fire where much more significant that al-Maliki who however claims all the credit.

  53. Salah said

    Jason have more truth in his comment than other spacailly if we go back in history.

    the Shiite elite represented by Jaafari. At every turn its political manoeuvring has been guided by an ambition for a greater share of Iraq’s resources and wealth, at the expense of the needs and aspirations of ordinary Iraqis

    Previously, the calls for Jaafari’s resignation came from different factions within the UIA, including SCIRI’s AbdulMahdi and Jalal al-Deen al-Saghir, Mohammed Ismail Khazali of the Fadhila party, and independent UIA member Kasim Daoud. Now that Sistani has openly withdrawn support, Jaafari’s time is short. Jaafari’s Dawa party must decide if it will support him to the bitter end, in defiance of Sistani’s council and the united factions outside the UIA. Will Jaafari and Sadr stand against Iraq?

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