Election Plans Roiled Sunni Extremist

Election Plans Roiled
Sunni Extremist Death Threats against Sistani

Hamza Hendawi of AP reports that the Shiite vote may get split. He says that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is declining to join the mega-Shiite party list toward which Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is working. Likewise, it is not clear that Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers will join the big list, since they are dissatisfied with the offer of only 10 percent of the list’s seats in parliament.

It seems to me that the Shiites needn’t any longer worry too much about a split list. I can’t imagine that Allawi’s list is going to do all that well, since his Iraqi National Accord, consisting of ex-Baathists, isn’t very popular and he is potentially a lame duck. Why would southern Shiites vote for ex-Baathists who ordered Marines into Najaf last August? Only if Allawi has enormous advantages of incumbency could his list overcome all his negatives.

President Ghazi Yawir seems to me unlikely to get many Shiite votes. Since he took Iraqi cabinet minister and Kurdish activist Nasrin Barwari as a second wife, he might pick up some Kurdish votes. (To underline the complexities of Iraq, Barwari is something of a feminist.) The Shamar tribe, which Yawir does not head but from whose chiefly family he comes, does have a small Shiite section, but it isn’t big and many Iraqi tribes are religiously split like that. I can’t see how Yawir can translate that fact into any significant number of Shiite votes. My guess is that most Shiites will vote as they think Sistani wants them to.

If the Sadrists run their own list, they might not do so badly, and if they mobilize poor Shiites to vote who otherwise might stay home, they might well actually increase the proportion of the national vote that goes to the Shiites.

So I now think the Shiites will manage to get their parliamentary majority. The real danger is that the Sunni Arabs will stay home, and the Shiites get 85% of the seats. If that happens, the religious Shiite parties are likely to dominate parliament, perhaps even holding 51% of seats (138 of 275).

A rear-guard Sunni Arab (and other) effort to postpone the elections grew in force on Friday, with 17 small parties now agitating for a 6-month delay. So far, however, the leading Shiite figures and parties are insisting on going ahead in January, and both Allawi and Bush seem to be committed.

It could be argued that the elections may as well be held in January, since 1) the security situation is not actually likely to be better in six months and 2) postponement might try the patience of Sistani, who insisted on early elections and can bring hundreds of thousands of protesters into the street with a single word. A Shiite agitation for elections at a time when most Sunnis want a delay could produce communal rioting.

An argument for delay is that security is so bad in the country that elections can easily be disrupted. Already, 90 out of 540 voter registration sites are closed. The guerrillas can strike at will into the heavily fortified Green Zone. On Friday they killed four British employees and wounded at least 14 with mortar fire. The kind of mortar they used has a range of many miles, so all they had to do was bring it in close enough on a flatbed truck with a cover, uncover, fire, and then disappear. The point is that if a hard target like the Green Zone (government offices, US embassy) can still be struck at will, then soft targets like hundreds of polling stations are sitting ducks. January 30 could be a bloodbath. Iraqis, aware of this, are already complaining about plans to use schools as polling places, since they don’t want their children bombed.

Already, Al-Zaman reports that guerrillas in Mosul targeted voter registration offices in Mosul this week, setting at least one on fire, and directing death threats at election workers.

Of course, the other problem with holding the elections on Jan. 30 is that many Sunni Arabs are angry and sullen and are likely to boycott. There is no point in holding elections that have no legitimate outcome.

Sunni radicals are aware that the Shiite grand ayatollah, Sistani, is a key obstacle to their own dreams of a Taliban state in Iraq, and some think they know what to do about that. KarbalaNews.net reports in Arabic that Salafi (Sunni fundamentalist) websites in Saudi Arabia– which have a direct and indirect impact on the situation in Iraq– have issued a call for the assassination of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf. One Salafi cleric, writing at Muntadiyat al-Qimmah, rejected all Shiite pleas for Muslim unity because, he said, Shiites are “more deserving of being killed than the Crusaders.”

KarbalaNews complains that such sites present doctored “sayings” falsely attributed to the Prophet Muhammad commanding jihad against the Shiites. (The Sunni-Shiite split did not exist at the time of Muhammad, d. 632).

Aside from the report of the content of this Salafi site, which the author says has the support of Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, this article demonstrates the great fear Iraqi Shiites have of Saudi Wahhabism, which has through the past two and a half centuries been fiercely anti-Shiite.

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