Election Woes Nancy Yousef Of Knight

Election Woes

Nancy Yousef of Knight Ridder reports from Baghdad that campaigning for the January 30 elections has worsened ethnic tensions. Her interviews with university students reveal that the Shiites she talked to are determined to vote, where the Sunnis are afraid to do so, having received death threats.

Speaking of death threats, she reveals that 2 members of Nasser Chadirchi’s 48-person Arab nationalist list have resigned on receiving such threats, and that the others are afraid to reveal their names. He estimates that each candidate needs 8 bodyguards if the person is to actively campaign.

Borzou Daragahi reports for AP that Sadr City, with ten percent of the country’s population, has put up its own electoral list. Regionally-based lists should not do as well as national ones, given the way the electoral rules have been set up. But if Sadr City does give its list any significant number of votes, and if some Sadrists elsewhere vote for the list on ideological grounds, it could get 10 or 15 seats in the 227-member parliament. A similar number of at least vaguely pro-Sadr delegates is likely to be seated in the United Iraqi Alliance. So it is not impossible that Sadrist will form five to ten percent of the new parliament. On many religious issues they could form strong alliances with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and al-Dawa, the other major Shiite groupings, to put through puritanical laws.

On the other hand, initial opinion polling in Baghdad and the Shiite south suggests that the list of secular ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi, the current interim prime minister, may get as much as 22 percent of the vote. The United Iraqi Alliance, the list cobbled together at Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s behest, comes in with 27% in the poll.

I very much doubt that when the elections actually come, Allawi’s list will do that well, or the UIA that poorly. A lot of Iraqis will make up their minds at the last moment, and get good information only at that time. The Dawa Party alone had 18 percent support in one recent poll, and it is only one element of the United Iraqi Alliance.

The guerrilla insurgency is attempting to derail the elections with bombings and attacks. Air force Brig.-Gen. Erv Lessel, the deputy chief of staff for strategic communications in Iraq, predicted spectacular attacks in the period running up to the elections, but said he had no specific intelligence on that score.

Meanwhile, the big death tolls from single bombing instances in past weeks have lead the Pentagon to send a wideranging investigative team to Iraq with a charge to improve the way things are being done and to find ways of accelerating the training of Iraqi troops.

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