The Iraqi Political Campaign has Opened
Scheherazade Faramarzi of AP has an excellent piece on the jockeying of Iraqi political parties with regard to the forthcoming elections.
She crucially points out that the party ticket system that has been adopted rewards parties with a percentage of seats in accordance with the percentage of votes they get. This system will hurt independents, since any one candidate can obviously only get a very small percentage of the vote. On reflection, I now think Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s opposition to the ticket system is probably rooted in his alliances with local Iraqi independents, such as tribal chieftains, who lack the backing of a national political party. Likewise, the big parties are dominated by expatriate politicians. Because the Baath banned other political parties, Iraqis who stayed inside the country aren’t likely to have a party and are disproportionately independents.
She also says that the Shiite parties, Da’wa and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, are trying to form an alliance and hope to attract the votes of the Sadr movement. If the latter becomes a party in its own right, I think it will be a major party in parliament, much bigger than SCIRI though perhaps smaller than Da’wa.
Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reports on the doubts of local politicians and experts about whether elections will actually be held in January. Shaikh al-Daraji of the Sadr movement said that elections must be held in all provinces simultaneously and under UN auspices, in contradiction to what US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently suggested. Experts consulted in Iraq said that they had not heard anything about judges having been selected to oversee the elections. Issues in who has Iraqi nationality have not been ironed out, and must apparently be judged by the old Baathist law. Because of the millions of Iraqi expatriates and their children born abroad, this issue is non-trivial. There still has not been a proper census, and it is not clear how voter rolls will come into existence. (One expert consulted maintained that the voting rolls already exist, but if so it is unclear how that happened).
Looking forward to the parliament, if one can be formed, I think there will be more Sunni-Shiite cooperation than is usually now expected. Patrick Seale is arguing that we are now seeing an outbreak of Pan-Islam in the region as a whole. You could easily imagine the Shiite hardliners and the Sunni fundamentalists in Iraq voting together on replacing civil law with Islamic canon law or shariah, e.g. The Sunnis would probably want a guarantee that they would be under Sunni personal status law. Having gained that, they might well vote with Muqtada al-Sadr’s group on implementing Islamic law. In my own view, however, Sunni-Shiite unity will be fragile and mainly encouraged by opposition to the US presence. If the US withdraws, it is possible that the two sorts of fundamentalists will then clash with one another. Sunni-Shiite strife in Iraq is scary because it would become internationalized, with Iran supporting the Shiites and Saudi Arabia supporting the Sunnis.
Meanwhile, KarbalaNews.net reports that the council of Shiite Turkmen sent a letter to the Shiite leaders in Najaf asking that they reject the “racist” Temporary Administrative Law, which, they say, damages the interests of Shiites and Turkmen. (Presumably they are upset about a provision that gives the Kurds a veto over any new constitution hammered out by the elected parliament.)
Patrick Kerkstra of the Philadelphia Inquirer explores the reasons for which the large southern port city of Basra, under British military command, has been much more peaceful and prosperous than the cities of the north. Savvy British peacekeeping technique is obviously part of the answer. At least some British personnel got training in Arabic. But personally I think the difference is that Tony Blair is not intervening in Basra for narrow political purposes, whereas George W. Bush is making a lot of military policy in the north for the purposes of his reelection campaign.