Sunni Arabs Launch Political Campaign

Sunni Arabs Launch Political Campaign to Kick US Out

Three small Sunni parties formed a coalition list on Wednesday. The Iraqi Islamic Party, the National Dialogue Council and the People’s Gathering will join forces to contest the December 15 elections.

Before anyone gets too excited about this development, it should be noted that Reuters goes on to report,

‘ “Our political program will focus more on getting the Americans out of Iraq,” Hussein al-Falluji, a prominent Sunni who took part in talks on the constitution, told Reuters. “Our message to the American administration is clear: get out of Iraq or set a timetable for withdrawal or the resistance will keep slaughtering your soldiers until Judgment Day.” ‘

How this is good news for the Bush administration I do not understand, but that is the way that Rupert Murdoch will spin it on Fox Cable News.

The other thing to remember is that most Sunni Arabs in Iraq are not followers of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood mainly based in Mosul. A lot of Sunni Arabs are still secular Arab nationalists. Al-Hayat pointed out recently that there is a fair Baath constituency in Iraq still, which some parties are angling for. Even among religious Sunnis, opinion polls show that Hareth al-Dhari of the Association of Muslim Scholars is far more popular than Muhsin Abdul Hamid of IIP.

Still, the Sunni Arabs will certainly improve their position in parliament on December 15.

Al-Hayat says that Muqtada al-Sadr is attempting to form a coalition list that will run with Sunni Muslims in Anbar. There has been a pan-Islamic tinge to the cooperation of hardline Shiite nationalist Muqtada with hardline Sunni nationalists such as the Association of Muslim Scholars.

AP is reporting that the Sadrists will largely stay in the United Iraqi Alliance. It also says that Grand Ayatollah Sistani is not endorsing the largely Shiite UIA this time around, having been disappointed by the performance of the Jaafari government. Personally, I think that the control of 9 provinces by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its allies gives the UIA such a strong party “machine” in the provinces that they no longer need Sistani’s endorsement to win.

AP also says that the Iraqi National Congress, which leans more to the secular side (but actually you could say it just leans to any side that benefits it at any time), has split from the UIA. Unless it gets a big infusion of foreign money and buys a lot of votes, I’d be surprised if the INC can win more than a handful of seats running on its own in a free election.

The Iraqi Electoral Commission has released the distribution of seats by province. The distribution seems to me grossly unfair to the Kurds and incredibly generous to the Sunni Arabs, but it is unlikely that the Sunni Arabs will be able to take advantage of this opportunity, because so many of them reject the idea of elections in the shadow of foreign military occupation, while others will be afraid to come out and vote, for fear of guerrilla reprisals. About 45 seats will not be contested by election as I understand it, but will be appointed in some way. That would leave about 230 in play in the elections. [I’ve been corrected that the 45 seats are not appointed but will be distributed by some complicated formula among parties that did not reach a certain threshold or perhaps also that did.)

How the 230 would be apportioned in the election can only be guessed out. But let me just do a thought experiment to see what is likely to happen. I am not making tight predictions, just thinking heuristically to get the likely lay of the land.

Below, I am going to arrange the seats by likely ethnic outcome:

Sunni Arabs:

Al-Anbar 9
Salahuddin 8
Ninevah 19

I think the Sunni Arab lists will get all the seats in Anbar and Salahuddin, for 17. I think they will pick up about 10 in Ninevah (they would get more, but the turnout may be light among Sunni Arabs, throwing a disproportionate number of seats to the Kurds and perhaps Shiite Turkmen). So that is 27.

Other places the Sunnis could pick up some seats are:

Babil 11
Baghdad 59
Diyalah 10

However, if the constitutional referendum was any guide, the Sunni Arabs seem unlikely actually to compete well in these mixed provinces. Again, in provinces such as Anbar and Salahuddin where they are the vast majority, light turnout will still produce Sunni seats in parliament. But in the mixed provinces, light Sunni turnout would allow Shiites to pick up most of the seats. I think this is what will happen. From the three provinces above, the Sunni Arabs could pick up as few as 15 seats. They could also get a few seats here and there elsewhere.

So, the Sunni representation in the new parliament could increase from the current 17 to more like 45 to 50. But I think this is the upper range. Obviously, this group could easily be outvoted by the Shiites and Kurds.

The Kurds

Duhok 7
Erbil 13
Sulaimaniyah 15
Kirkuk 9

The Kurds will get almost all the seats in the three northern provinces where they predominate, for a total of about 35. I suspect they will get about 5 of the Kirkuk seats, though it could be more if there is light Sunni Arab turnout. Call it 40.

They can also pick up some seats from some mixed provinces, say 7 or so from Ninevah and a few from Diyalah. There are said to be a lot of Kurds in Baghdad province (several hundred thousand), and they could get 5 or so there. Call it 55.

So, I think the Kurds will be cut down from their current 78 seats to only about 50 or 55, and they they will have only a few more seats than the Sunni Arabs or perhaps only be equal to them.

The Shiites:

Basra 16
Karbala 6
Maysan 7
Muthanna 5
Najaf 8
Qadisiyah 8
Dhi Qar 12
Wasit 8

I believe that the Shiite religious parties will dominate all of the Shiite-majority provinces. There are 70 seats above, and all but a handful will go to the United Iraqi Alliance or its successors. (The Basra middle class could vote for Iyad Allawi’s secular list or for the INC. But it has been devastated as a constituency by decades of poor economy, with many of its members driven into poverty or abroad. It is easy to be surprised in making these prognostications, but if the secular parties got more than 3-5 seats from Basra, I would be astonished. I doubt anyone in Dhi Qar or Wasit would vote for them, and certainly not in Karbala or Najaf).

Then let’s revisit the mixed provinces:

Babil 11
Baghdad 59
Diyalah 10

The religious Shiites could pick up as many as 60 of these 80 seats. Remember that they may also pick up stray seats in mixed provinces such as Ninevah and Kirkuk. So the religious Shiites could have 130 seats easily. They need 138 for a simple majority. They could get it. But in any case they will be close to a simple majority, and would probably only need to find a couple of small lists with which to ally in order to form a government. Moreover, there is the wild card of the 45 or so seats that will be allocated by redistribution afterward. If any of them go to the religious Shiites, it would clench it.

You could also imagine an alliance of the Shiite fundamentalists with the Iraqi Islamic Party on issues such as Islamic law. If that development occurred, I suspect it would hasten Kurdish secession, since the Arabs could consistently outvote the more secular-leaning Kurdish bloc if they united.

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