Did Fallujah Sink the Elections?
Among the justifications given by the US for its campaign against guerrillas in Fallujah was that it would prepare the way for elections in January. It was said that elections could not be held as long as major cities were not even in government control.
It seems likely, however, that the Fallujah offensive has so deeply alienated the Sunni Arab populace of Iraq, which is probably 4 million to 4.5 million strong, that it has ensured that they will boycott the polls as American-sponsored. The political goals of the Fallujah campaign, in other words, were foredoomed to failure, even if military objectives were met, with the capture and destruction of thousands of pounds of explosives intended for other cities. (Most of the military goals probably weren’t met either, however, since the guerrillas could easily reestablish themselves and the guerrilla war seems likely to go on at much the same pace as before for the foreseeable future. There are after all 250,000 tons of explosives and ammunitions unaccounted for in Iraq, which the US allowed the guerrillas to raid and store).
Al-Hayat says the radical Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah group announced Thursday that it would blow up polling stations on election day, and called on Muslims to boycott the American-sponsored elections. The Association of Muslim Scholars, which has also urged a boycott, issued a call Thursday for those who captured some 60 recently-trained police near the Jordan border to realease them, so as to avoid the heightening of sectarian tensions. This call was an allusion to the Shiite ethnicity of the captured police cadets, who, al-Hayat says, appear not to have escaped after all, contrary to earlier wire service reports.
The heightening of sectarian tensions was underlined recently when Shiites in Basra formed the Fury Brigade, aimed at using paramilitary means to protect Shiites from Sunni Arab attacks in the Latifiyah / Mahmudiyah area south of Baghdad. The Furty Brigade insisted that the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, and the al-Azhar Seminary/ University in Cairo, issue formal legal findings (fatwas) that it is wrong for a Sunni to kill a Shiite (-Adil Awadh, al-`Alam al-An, Radio Sawa Iraq in Arabic). Readers will note that there have been no sympathy demonstrations against the Fallujah campaign in major Shiite cities such as Basra. This is because Iraqi Shiites suffered mightily under the Baath and they are afraid of foreign and homegrown Sunni fundamentalists, whom they term “Wahhabis” and “takfiris”–i.e. those who declare some Muslims to be actually infidels– and they are afraid both forces are strong in Fallujah and intent on targetting them. In contrast, many Sunni Arabs are furious at the Shiites for refusing to protest the US assault on Fallujah, as Abbas Kadhim argues.
The Guardian speculates that pressure is now building to postpone the elections. This move is supported by the Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni fundamentalist group still more or less committed to encouraging Sunni participation. Its leader, Muhsin Abdul Hamid, predicts a near-complete Sunni Arab boycott if the elections are held in January. The IIP is supported in this talk of postponement by elements in the Allawi government (which gets to stay in power longer and shore up its advantages of incumbency if the elections are postponed).
In contrast, the major Shiite parties insist that the electoral timetable be adhered to. They are following the line of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, that elections must be held as early as possible at all costs, to produce a legitimate Iraqi government. They say that if the elections are not held in some places of the Sunni Arab heartland, that is not important.
But they are wrong. The Americans crafted the election as a national one, in order to make it more difficult for strongly local and sectarian political forces to do well. The party lists that fare best will be those with strongest national support. The down side of this plan is that if a major constituency, such as the Sunni Arabs, boycotts, then they will get virtually no seats and the legitimacy of the resulting parliament would be weakened.
If elections are held in January, I see only one way to avoid disaster. This would be some sort of emergency decree by the current government that sets aside, say, 20% of seats in parliament for the Sunni Arabs. This procedure would seat Sunni Arab candidates in order of the popularity of their lists and in order of their rank within the lists on which they run. But the results would essentially be “graded on a curve.” In a way, this procedure is already being followed for women, who are guaranteed 30% of seats. This solution is Lebanon-like and is not optimal, but it might be the best course if long-term sectarian and ethnic conflict is to be avoided. Remember, the first thing the new parliament will do is craft a permanent constitution. You want Sunni Arabs sitting at that table, or else.
Al-Hayat reports that the Allawi government threatened some mosque preachers with arrest if they continued to agitate against participation in the elections and to instigate violence against the multinational troops. A number, it says, were in fact arrested, including an aide to the young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He is Sheikh Hashim Abu Ghuraif, head of the Najaf office of the Sadr movement.
Meanwhile, another wave of violence washed over Iraq on Thursday, leaving 19 dead, including a US serviceman and an Iraqi national guardsman, along with Iraqi civilians killed by a car bomb in Baghdad and by roadside explosives north of the capital.