Election Boycott Announced
Forty-seven Iraqi political parties, including many with a religious base, have announced that they will boycott the planned January elections. They met at the Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad under the auspices of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars and its allies among Sunni fundamentalists, but they were joined by 8 Shiite parties and one Christian one. The Iraqi Turkmen Front and the People’s Union Party (Communist) also joined in the boycott. Mazen Ghazi writes:
‘ The communiqué . . . said the January election does not speak for the Iraqi people as long as it is “imposed” by the US-backed interim government and rejected by a clear majority of political and religious powers.
‘ The participants warned that the current wave of massive US raids across Iraq threatened the territorial integrity of the country and would virtually prove as futile the outcome of the upcoming election.
“The US raids against An-Najaf, Karbala, Samarra, Mosul, Baghdad and more recently Fallujah represent an obstacle to the political participation in the occupied country,” read the final statement. The conference further called the US offensive into Fallujah a “genocide”. ‘
The minor Shiite cleric Mahmud al-Hasani in Karbala, a leader of the Sadr tendency, had been agitating for a boycott, a movement that ended in violence with followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the arrest of seven of al-Hasani’s aides. Several leading members of the Association of Muslim Scholars have also been arrested by the Americans. Is there an unwritten law that calling for an election boycott in Iraq is illegal?
Even with all the massive violence going on in the country, some 3,000 angry Iraqis demonstrated in front of the Green Zone on Wednesday, demanding the release of al-Hasani’s followers. AP said, that Hassani’s ‘ spokesman Maath al-Zargawi told The Associated Press . . . [that] the seven had been arrested from Ayatollah al-Hassani’s offices in Karbala, Amarah, Shamiya, and Diwaniya . . . “We call on the coalition forces to free them,” Zargawi said. He said the office did not know the reason for their arrests. ‘
Al-Hasani is a minor leader of a splinter group of the Sadr movement. What of the Sadrists as a whole? BBC Monitoring picked up from Iraqi Al-Diyar television on Nov. 16 the following: “Hashim al-Musawi, one of aides to Al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr, has stressed that the Al-Sadr current will suspend its support for and participation in the forthcoming elections in protest of the incursion into Al-Fallujah city. In front of hundreds of worshippers outside Al-Kufah Mosque . . . he said that the US forces had violated all human values and concepts agreed upon by the Geneva Convention. Al-Musawi appealed to the international community and the Arab League to intervene in halting these practices, which exceeded all limits.”
Muqtada is reportedly in fact negotiating with Sistani over how many seats his movement will get if it joins a united Shiite list, so it strikes me that this statement is more likely piece of bargaining with Sistani than a genuine boycott threat.
Adil Awadh of the American Sawa radio service for Iraq, interviewed Hussein Shahristani a politician very close to Grand Ayatollah Sistani, in Arabic. Shahristani warned against any delay in holding the elections in January, saying that it would lead to a rapid further deterioration in the security situation. He admitted that if the Sunnis did boycott and ended up being unrepresented in the parliament, that development would call for redress. (He did not specify any concrete way of addressing the problem). But he said that the redress had to come after the elections, and that the mere prospect of such an unrepresentative outcome should not preven the elections from taking place.
Ordinarily, election boycotts just backfire on the boycotters and are not a cause for concern. But if the Sunni Arabs boycott in large numbers, they can derail the entire electoral process and spike the writing of a new constitution, so this campaign is significant and even fateful. I am not as sanguine as Dr. Shahristani that a massive Sunni boycott could be compensated for after the event. Even legally, how could that work? The temporary constitution makes no such provision.
That the boycott move has some Shiite participation is interesting but not very relevant, since most Shiites will come out to vote if Sistani tells them to, and a rejectionist minority will just leave itself voiceless. That would not in itself sink the process. It is the Sunnis who can ruin the elections by not showing up.