Were the Shiites Cheated? And What does Allawi Want?
Al-Hayat has a long interview with an “informed Iraqi source” who is close to US officials in Iraq. He maintains that the US officials there were astounded that the United Iraqi Alliance did so well, and that they felt helpless and resigned as the process unfolded. He says that they are now asking privately if the US shed so much blood and treasure in Iraq to help fundamentalist Shiite allies of Iran take over Baghdad.
Al-Hayat also today repeats the allegation that the US or the electoral commission somehow cheated the United Iraqi Alliance of an absolute majority in parliament. (Note that this argument completely contradicts the interview they did, which speaks of US helplessness before the results.) The argument that the Iraqi elections were fixed is, however, implausible. It is sometimes alleged that the Shiites should have done better than they did, given the Sunni Arab absence. But when the smoke cleared, the UIA did have a majority in parliament, so the allegation makes no sense.
The NYT claimed that “the turnout in the three mainly Kurdish provinces in the north averaged 85 percent; in nine mainly Shiite southern provinces, the average was 71 percent.”
This is the breakdown for turnout as best I could determine it, with only a couple of missing figures.
Dhi Qar (67%)
Salah ad-Din (29%)
Now, the United Iraqi Alliance has 51 percent of the seats, having attacted the religious Shiite vote. The Iraqiya list of Iyad Allawi got the middle class, secular-leaning Shiites, with 14.5 percent. That is 64.5 percent for the two major Shiite lists. Then the small Shiite parties and the Communists (whose supporters are disproportionately Shiites) are another 3.4 percent, for a total of 68%.
If Shiites are, say, 62 percent of the population, and 71 percent turned out to vote, if 100 percent of the other groups had come out, the Shiites should have gotten 46 percent of the seats. But since the 4.5 million Sunni Arabs hardly turned out at all, and since 15 percent of Kurds did not, in the proportional system those percentages were added to the Shiite column, so they got 68% of seats in parliament. That is, it is as if 110 percent of the Shiites voted, because the absence of the Sunni Arabs magnified the Shiite vote. In fact, if the religious and secular Shiites could cooperate (fat chance), they could from a government all by themselves without reference to the Kurds or Sunni Arabs.
Precisely because the United Iraqi Alliance has ended up with 51 percent of the seats, which is enough to confirm the new government once a cabinet is selected, and since with the small Shiite parties it has 54 percent, either the US did not intervene in the ballot counting or it was completely incompetent in doing so. Personally, I don’t think the US was in a position to intervene. Grand Ayatollah Sistani would not have put up with it, and the Americans knew it.
The results seem to me entirely plausible. Friends of mine with contacts among middle class Shiites in Baghdad reported that many of them were going to vote for Allawi, so the 14.5 percent showing for the Iraqiya list is not out of line (and is much smaller than most reporters with mainly middle class Baghdad contacts had expected).
If the Daily Telegraph is right that Iyad Allawi hopes to form a government without either the Kurdish Alliance or the United Iraqi Alliance, then this whole bid of his for the prime minister post is a stalking horse for some other purpose. The UIA and the Kurds between them have 78 percent of the seats in parliament! And Allawi would need 66 percent to form a government. He says he will work with small parties, but aside from the Sunni Iraqiyun with 5 seats and the Communists with 2, most of the rest are Shiite and have already formed a coalition with the UIA. Allawi’s only hope is to detach delegates from the United Iraqi Alliance in such numbers as to put into question that list’s ability to dominate parliament. Even then he has no chance of becoming prime minister. He almost certainly is simply angling for a cabinet position, and using the threat of creating disunity in the UIA ranks by seducing some of its members as leverage.