UIA Will Hold Secret Ballot
Chalabi, Allawi Still in Running for PM
The Shiite religious coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, will hold a secret ballot within the list to decide on a prime ministerial candidate, according to AP. This move is a sign that neither Ibrahim Jaafari nor Chalabi could win by consensus. Jaafari should have had enough votes to prevail by consensus, given that he heads up the Dawa Party, one of the two major forces in the UIA, so this development is unexpected.
Then it was announced that Iyad Allawi, the ex-Baathist interim prime minister, will also enter a bid to become prime minister, even though his Iraqiya list only got 14.5 percent of the seats in parliament.
The strength of Chalabi’s challenge, and Allawi’s sudden hopes, need to be explained, and if readers will bear with me, I’m going to engage in a heuristic exercise (i.e. a thought experiment). I can’t get exact enough data to simply say what the situation is, but I think I can lay out a scenario that is at least broadly plausible.
The UIA is a coalition of 11 parties, along with many independents chosen by a committee appointed by the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. The two major parties in it are the Dawa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, both fundamentalist in orientation. I have still not seen a breakdown of the party allegiance of the 140 UIA members that have been seated.
But it is possible that Dawa and SCIRI were shortchanged by the process that Sistani instituted. That is, Dawa and Islamic Dawa were said to have each been given 10 percent of the seats in the UIA, and SCIRI and its offshoot, the Badr Organization, were given 12 percent and 10 percent respectively. That proportion would suggest that the two parties only control about 59 of the 140 seats, or 42 percent.
The other 81 seats are controlled by other small parties or by independents. I suspect at least some of the independents tilt toward Dawa or SCIRI, however. The Iraqi National Congress of Ahmad Chalabi had ten seats according to some press reports, though it is hard to know for sure. Other relatively traditionalist or secular-leaning small parties also have some seats. The Faili Kurds, who are Shiites, have a few, as do the Turkmen (I don’t believe we’ve been told how many). According to some reports, about 30 Sadrists ran on the UIA ticket, though we cannot know how many were seated. These are persons who are devoted to the memory of Sadiq al-Sadr (d. 1999) and may or may not be close to his son, Muqtada al-Sadr. If Sadrists were seated in the same proportion as the rest of the list (60 percent of UIA candidates were seated), that would be 18 Sadrists. Chalabi, it should be noted, has some sort of weird alliance with Muqtada al-Sadr.
Quite apart from party, every third seat went to a woman or about 46 of the UIA seats. Middle class women in Iraq are generally terrified of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, including many Shiite women, since they saw how the Khomeini regime (to which SCIRI was historically close) took away civil rights from women and imposed on them medieval patriarchy in the law. Still, if my estimates above are correct, about 19 of the women’s seats belong to female members of SCIRI and Dawa, who presumably will support their own parties. So 25 of the women might be free to support Chalabi against Jaafari.
A lot of the women appear to have supported Chalabi, according to AP. Let’s say he picked up even 20 of them. Then the Faili Kurds supported him (2-3?). So, too, did the Sadrists (15-18?). Then he had his 10 INC members (who were probably fairly high up the list and so probably got seated) and a few other secular-leaning or traditionalist independents who preferred him to Dawa and SCIRI. You could see how he could have 60 votes. His people claim he has 80, but that is not plausible because if it were true, he would have won by consensus (a candidate would need 71 votes to win).
If SCIRI and Dawa vote together, Jaafari, who is the candidate of the more fundamentalist parties, would need 29 votes from elsewhere in the list, assuming the women and other members of their contingents held firm. Apparently it is not clear to the UIA members whether he has those 29 or not (otherwise, they would just acquiesce in his bid).
This outcome is in part a result of the compromise suggested by Sistani to Dawa and SCIRI, which certainly shortchanged them. SCIRI won 8 of the 18 provincial council elections for itself, and would therefore almost certainly have dominated the UIA if seats within it had been apportioned according to true electoral strength. Sistani has long been concerned that local politicians who stayed in Iraq have a voice in government, and not just the expatriate parties such as Dawa and SCIRI. But these local forces and independents are often less fundamentalist than the expatriates, which had taken refuge in Iran.
The other wild card here is the women. The interim constitution had specified that at least 25 percent of seats be apportioned to women. Somehow the United Nations committee for assisting the Iraqi elections managed to put that up to 33 percent. If Muqtada al-Sadr (who wants women all covered up and put in their places) and middle class Shiite women joined forces to put into power Ahmad Chalabi (a corrupt financier charged with spying for Iran), that would be about the most bizarre set of bedfellows in the history of parliaments.
So this is where Allawi enters the picture. If Chalabi were to cobble together 71 votes within the 140-strong UIA contingent, he might in the process so anger Dawa and SCIRI that they will refuse to support him when the government is voted on in the full parliament.
To form a government, a prime minister will need 182 seats. If Chalabi only had 71 from the UIA, and could get the support of the Kurds, with 75, he would still need 36 votes from somewhere else. He would need to get them from the Iraqiya list of Allawi.
At that point, Allawi becomes plausible. He thinks he can turn the tables on Chalabi. He has 40 from his list, and the 6 Sunni Arabs will support him. If he can ally with the Kurds and get their 75, he would need 61. He would have to steal those from the UIA. It is not impossible that the same sort of UIA delegate (minus the Sadrists) who would vote for Chalabi would vote for him. Moreover, if it became a choice between Chalabi and Allawi, a lot of MPs might defect to Allawi on non-ideological grounds, just because Chalabi is such a sleazebag and will prolong the Sunni Arab insurgency with his punitive campaign against ex-Baathists.
Personally, I think it is unlikely that Allawi can put together 182, starting from only 40, even if the Kurds swing around to back him, just because so many Shiites in the UIA will have a grudge against him and his ex-Baathists.
There are two other wild cards in all this. Al-Hayat reported over the weekend that even the UIA would want a green light from the US embassy, to which it obviously has a back channel. Whereas Chalabi has allies in the Department of Defense among the Neoconservatives, he is widely disliked by the State Department, and Negroponte might be enough of a State Department man to block Chalabi.
The Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani also has a veto because of his moral authority with the Shiites. He, however, is said to have adopted a stance of neutrality as between Jaafari, Chalabi and Adil Abdul Mahdi (who earlier withdrew but shouldn’t be counted out). Sistani said he would be happy with the UIA choice.
In the same way that the US could block Chalabi by simply intimating that he is unacceptable, so Sistani might be able to block Allawi if he so chose.
Several readers have asked for final tallies for the parliamentary elections, which were announced after reapportionment last Thursday.
Some of the implications of the final tallies were analyzed in this article in the Turkish newspaper, Zaman, though from an odd point of view. The author seemed to think there was a chance of the United Iraqi Alliance (140 seats of 275) cooperating with the secular, largely ex-Baathist Shiites of Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya list (40 seats) to form a Shiite 2/3s majority. This outcome strikes me as highly unlikely. I could not find any similar detailed discussion (as opposed to simple reportage) of the final parliamentary outcome in the Western press by keyword search, though I could easily have missed something. If the absence I note is real, it is a sad commentary on our press.
United Iraqi Alliance 140 seats 51 percent
Kurdish Alliance 75 seats 27 percent
Iraqiya (Allawi) 40 seats 14.5 percent
Iraqiyyun (Ghazi al-Yawir) 5 seats 1.8 percent
Cadres and Chosen (Sadr) 3 seats 1 percent
Turkmen National Front 3 seats 1 percent
Islamic Action Council (Shiite) 2 seats 0.7 percent
Communists 2 seats 0.7 percent
Kurdish Islamic Bloc 2 seats 0.7 percent
National Democratic Alliance 1 seat 0.3 percent
Mesopotamian National (Christian) 1 seat 0.3 percent
Welfare and Liberation (Juburi) 1 seat 0.3 percent
(does not equal 100 because of rounding)
As for the forces that rejected the elections, BBC world monitoring on Feb. 17 says, ‘ Al-Hawzah carries on page 1 of the Supplement a 2,000-word article by Abd-al-Samad al-Suwaylim, discussing the “legitimacy” of the Islamic political parties in Iraq, saying that these parties are “religiously illegitimate” because they do not believe in Wilayat al-Faqih rule of the legal scholar, according to the Shiite doctrine. ‘ Al-Hawzah is the newspaper of Muqtada al-Sadr. There has been some controversy about whether the Sadr Movement accepts Khomeini’s doctrine of the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent (Wilayat al-Faqih). I’d say the answer is yes, and the Muqtada faction of the Sadrists is even using the doctrine as a litmus test for whether other parties are truly Islamic.