20,000 Protest Election Fraud in Iraq
Leading Sunnis Scorned as Baathists
The question of whether the December 15 elections might contribute to social peace in Iraq (always a chancy proposition) began to clarify on Friday.
The guerrilla war raged with full fury, as two GIs were killed in Baghdad by a roadside bomb. A suicide bomber on a bicycle killed 10 persons and wounded others at a Shiite mosque in Baladruz northeast of Baghdad. The death toll from an attack on an Iraqi army base in the north rose to 10. A bomber targeted a British convoy in Basra, but missed.
First, Nancy Youssef and Huda Ahmed broke the story that the Iraqi Supreme Court has ordered the high electoral commission to heed the warning that several leading Sunni Arab candidates were high-ranking Baathists and should be disqualified. The affected candidates are largely from the Iraqiya list of Iyad Allawi and the National Dialogue Council of Salih Mutlak, both of them hospitable to secular ex-Baathists. Mutlak predicted turbulence in the streets, with perfect accuracy (of course, he helped arrange for the turbulence).
Then, Al-Zaman/ AFP [Ar.] : and AP report that some 20,000 mainly Sunni protesters (along with some secular Shiites) came out in several cities to protest what they called election fraud. Demonstrations were held in Baghdad, Mosul, Tikrit and Samarra, among other cities. The crowds demanded that new elections be held, given the extent of irregularities they maintained had occurred.
At one of the Baghdad rallies, Adnan Dulaimi of the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni Islamist) demanded that the results of the election be abrogated in every province where any electoral fraud could be demonstrated. He pledged to “follow all peaceful and legal means to vindicate the truth and defeat falsehood.” His coalition partner, Tariq al-Hashimi, the secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said, “our position of rejecting the results of the elections is reinforced daily, and before us lies the difficult mission of altering the results and achieving justice.” He said, “The intention to commit fraud was present even before the ballot boxes were opened.” He added, “If we do not receive an answere, we will rethink our participation in politics, for we reject a political process that some desire, based on fraud and lies.” The Sunni Arabs, he said, “refuse to be second class citizens.”
Shaikh Mahdi al-Sumaidaie, the preacher at the Umm al-Qura Mosque in West Baghdad said in his sermon that “The Iraqi people, which had anticipated the rise of national government that would include all groups, has been shocked by the process of election fraud, and it is something that the Iraqi people absolutely will not abide.” Sumaidaie had been among the few hard line members of the Association of Muslim Scholars who had called for Sunnis to participate in the elections.
In Mosul, hundreds of demonstrators marched from the Khidr Mosque toward the governor’s mansion at the center of the city, carrying Iraqi flags and placards with phrases like “The Electoral Commission is Subordinating Iraq to its Neighbors” (i.e. Iran), and shouting “No, no!” to the High Electoral Commission, which they called the “High Fraudulent Commission.”
The demonstrations were called by the Iraqi Accord Front, the Iraq People’s Congress, and the National Dialogue Council one day after 35 coalitions, parties and movements (including some consisting of secular Shiites) rejected the early results being announced concerning the outcome of the elections. In those results, the Shiite fundamentalist coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, won most of the seats in 9 southern provinces and in Baghdad. The demonstrators shouted that Iran had intervened in the elections, and said that even a high American official had complained about Tehran’s interference (a reference to Gen. George Casey.)
(The Bush administration’s fear of Iran and of its reigning Iraqi allies in Baghdad may be destabilizing Iraq by giving ammunition to disgruntled Sunni Arabs. How many feet does the Bush administration have left to shoot itself in??)
There was a story floating around last week that a “tanker” full of “hundreds of thousands” of forged ballots coming from Iran was discovered and confiscated at the border, with the names but not the rest of the ballots filled in. This story, which has fed Sunni Arab discontent, makes no sense. First of all, you can’t get hundreds of thousands of ballots on one truck, even a tanker. Paper is bulky. How would Iran have a list of plausible Iraqi voters? Iranians mostly print in nasta’liq script, not the naskh favored in the Arab world, and mostly use Persian, not Arabic. While Iranian printers could pull off such a thing, you have to ask, why? If you were going to print fake Arabic ballots for Iraq, why not just do it in Basra? It is not as if the United Iraqi Alliance, the presumed beneficiary of the alleged forgeries, does not control Iraqi printing presses in areas secure enough for it to commit fraud if it liked. I don’t find the story plausible, but it appears that the US military has actually arrested Fazel “Abu Tayyib” Jasim, a provincial council member of Kut and a member of the Shiite Badr Organization (the paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq), implicating him in the affair. I’d like to see the truck and the ballots on television. One tanker, or even a fleet of them, couldn’t affect centrally an election with millions of voters.
In any case, these actions and statements of the US military are unlikely to overturn the election results, which probably give the religious Shiites control of parliament. But they could further destabilize Iraq, if that is possible.
Informed sources told al-Zaman that the new government won’t be formed until late February or early March.
SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim visited Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani Friday in Najaf. Afterwards, he issued a statement that he would not allow the dissolution of the High Electoral Commission, as critics of the eleciton demanded. He said the criticisms of the election results were unwarranted, and he called the threats issued by some “a bad thing.” He said, “We have to honor the will of the people.” He said that criticisms of the High Electoral Commission were understandable, but that to target the people itself was bizarre and unprecedented. He insisted, “The United Iraqi Alliance too strong for any blocs to stand before it, since it represents the will of the majority of the Iraqi people.”