Parties Jockey for Power in Wake of Elections;
Dulaimi willing to Ally with Shiites
Since Bush is going to say Sunday that the Sunni Arab participation in the elections suggests a near end of major guerrilla violence, let me just repeat what I said Thursday: the history of guerrilla insurgencies is replete with groups that simulaneously fought on both the political and paramilitary fronts. Listen to how angry the Sunni politicians are, as they speak out in the wake of the elections, both at Bush and at the Shiites, and you get a sense of how detached the Bush administration remains from reality.
A major Sunni leader whose list (the National Dialogue Council) seems to be doing well, Salih Mutlak, just came on Arabic satellite television and gave a strident anti-American speech. He addressed Bush, warning him not to believe that a fair election had just occurred in Iraq, and denounced the continued US military occupation of his country. He also lashed out at Shiite politicians. Mutlak is a secular Arab nationalist who still praises the Baath Party. Mutlak’s emergence as a likely power broker in the Iraqi parliament is good news for Bush?
By the way, the assertion Bush keeps making that the political developments in Iraq will influence the rest of the Middle East is ridiculous to anyone who actually talks to anyone from the region. Arabs mostly believe that Iraq is laboring under an oppressive foreign military occupation. You can’t bring up Iraq without them saying, “The Americans are doing such horrible things there.” They think of Abu Ghraib and Fallujah, and of the Ministry of Interior’s secret torture cells, not of parliamentary debates. Few think the Iraqi elections are aboveboard, and few are very interested in them. In Beirut, the newspapers have been putting a short article on the elections below the fold every day since Wednesday, and that is about it. It isn’t even really positioned as important news; the New York Times puts it higher on the page than most Arab newspapers.
An American living in Egypt who was teaching out in the provinces in a major city told me about recently witnessing a student demonstration that included a skit. Thousands of students had come out, and some grade schoolers were there in the front row. On the steps of an academic hall, Islamist students enacted a play about an Iraqi suicide bomber blowing up US troops, to enormous glee and applause. That’s what most Arabs think about Iraq, on the outside. They don’t want to emulate an American-occupied country. Bush’s naive conviction that his project is exemplary reminds me of the way the Communists in Russia initially thought that all the factory workers in the West would want immediately to imitate their worker’s paradise. Of course, few wanted to give up their unions and consumer lifestyle so as to become the wards of a one-party state. Likewise, American Imperial “democracy” strikes most Arabs as paternalistic and hypocritical, masking a police state of a sort they are all too familiar with.
The guerrilla war started back up in Iraq on Saturday and Sunday, with a number of bombings and shootings. On Saturday, 13 Iraqis were killed in separate guerrilla attacks. They included an official of the Badr Corps, the paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the leading party in the outgoing parliament.
Al-Hayat [Ar.] : The London-based Saudi daily says that most signs suggest that the bloc of young Shiite nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr will form a major element in the new Iraqi parliament, and that other parties will seek an alliance with it. Among the first to broach such an alliance is outgoing prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari, who spoke in Najaf on Saturday.
As for the Sunni Arabs, they celebrated their return as a power in political life, forming processions in various cities. The leader of the Concord Front thanked the armed resistance for refraining from attacks on Sunnis who came out to vote.
[AP says that Adnan Dulaimi, leader of an important Sunni bloc, expressed a willingness to ally either with the Kurds and the Allawi list, or with the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance. He is quoted as saying, “For the sake of Iraq, there is nothing impossible. We have to forget the past and we extend our hands to everybody. . .” Dulaimi is a Sunni fundamentalist, and obviously differs with his secular colleague, Salih Mutlak.
[A parliament jointly dominated by Muqtada Al-Sadr’s people and Sunnis like Dulaimi would certainly demand an early departure of US troops. To Mickey Kaus, who asked why I thought parliament might make such a demand even though it is clear that the parliament could not keep order in the country if the US troops suddenly left, I would just reply: have you been listening to what the Sunni parties and the Sadrists have been saying for the past 2 1/2 years? Asking why politicians might do something that causes chaos is sort of naive, isn’t it? Surely George W. Bush wouldn’t have risked destabilizing Iraq and the Middle East with a rushed invasion based on faulty intelligence? He thinks Muqtada al-Sadr and Salih Mutlak are better than Bush?]
Al-Hayat: Observers said that the expectation is that the Kurdistan Alliance will retain the presidency and that the Sunni Arabs will be given the post of speaker of the house, but that if they want to switch places, the negotiations would be up to them.
One close observer, al-Rubaie, said that the initial returns suggested that the Shiite fundamentalist coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, would gain 133 seats. If the small Shiite lists join it, and if negotiations with the Kurdistan Islamic Union succeed, it would be able to form a government. The KIU is said to have gained 18 seats. He said that the Sadr bloc would play an important role in taking decisions within the Alliance, since its candidates within the United Iraqi Alliance gained more seats than any other coalition partner. It is said that the candidates of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq did poorly.
(Since the elections were held on a province basis, and the United Iraq Alliance ran a list in each province, on which the Sadrists and SCIRI were apportioned equal numbers of candidates, there are only two ways I can understand such an outcome–if it is being accurately reported. One is that the Sadrists are a social movement, not a party. If a lot of Sadrist-leaning candidates ran on other lists than the UIA, and did well, they would add to the 30 seats apportioned within the UIA to Muqtada’s people. The other possibility is that the UIA wanted the Sadrists so badly that they front-loaded Muqtada’s people, putting them at the top of the list. In this case they would have been seated before the SCIRI candidates, and in provinces where the UIA did not gain all the seats, SCIRI would have been disadvantaged. I’m just speculating; it isn’t clear what is going on here–and it could just be spin by Muqtada’s people.)
Ed Wong of the NYT reports that the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is confident enough of its own position in the new parliament to push for Adel Abdul Mahdi as prime minister. The outgoing prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, is from the Dawa Party, a coalition partner of SCIRI in the UIA. Abdul Mahdi is known to be a free marketeer who is close to the Americans, and is the most acceptable figure in SCIRI to Washington.
Jaafari held a joint press conference on Saturday with Muqtada after he met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. He seemed to assume that the UIA had won again. Jaafari said, “I am addressing our people in Mosul and Ramadi and Tikrit. I say to them that your people in Najaf, Karbala and Hillah have long waited to work with you under the dome of parliament to build a new Iraq.” He continued before a large rally that had come out to greet him, “I address my words to our brethren, the clergy in Mosul and Anbar and Tikrit, and I say to them that this is the time to employ the pulpit to spread the ideas of unity and liberty, and to affirm our principles, with which we have been inspired by the revelation of the Quran and the practice [Sunnah] of the Prophet.” He also called on “the Baathists” “to return to the right path in participating with their brethren in building Iraq,” saying, “the Iraqi people are looking at them with the eyes of compassion.”
The LA Times reports that every indication is that the Allawi list has done very poorly. Iyad Allawi has left Iraq in disappointment, and his supporters are crying election fraud. Allawi is an ex-Baathist who cooperated with the CIA in organizing Baath officers who broke with Saddam in the 1990s for a coup against the dictator. His blunt secularism, authoritarian style, rumors of bloodthirstiness, and CIA associations make him unpopular in most of Iraq, but the Bush administration and neoconservative think tanks kept touting him as a possible prime minister as a result of these elections! Western reporters talking mainly to the urban middle class also got a false sense that his list might be gaining in popularity.
Al-Hayat [Ar.] also reports on the participation and non-participation of women in the Iraqi elections. Shiite women came out in large numbers in the middle and south of the country when the polls first opened. A majority of women in Kurdistan came out to vote, coming with whole families, spouses and children to the polling stations.
But in Sunni Arab Anbar and Tikrit, women tended to stay home, and if they voted it was by sending their proxy with their husbands or fathers so that they could vote for them.
In the Shiite south, early tabulations suggest that the participation of eligible women voters was between 71 and 84 percent in Karbala, Najaf, Nasiriyah, Kut, Basra, and the Shiite districts of Baghdad. Fewer women came out in heavily tribal and rural Maysan and Samawa provinces. Most women came to the polls early, though some waited until they had finished their housework and cooked the family meal.
Iraqi women interviewed stressed the important role that their spouses and fathers played in pushing them to participate in the elections, and in encouraging them to vote for a particular party list. The majority of women voted for religious parties, but a few broke ranks and voted for secular ones.
Al-Hayat interviewed Um Ghufran, an employee in the municipal government of the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, who said that she had voted for a secular party because she liked its platform, as well as because she wanted to get away from the influence of religion, which had led many other women to vote for parties that did not stand for things they believe in.
Kurdish women have more freedoms than Arab Iraqi women, but they nevertheless tended to vote the same way their men did.
There were a number of women on the ballot in the Sunni Arab provinces of Salahuddin and Anbar, but women were not visible at the polling stations in either place– though they are 54 percent of the electorate in both. In both places, the patriarch tended to go and vote on behalf of the entire family. Women did not go out both because of poor security and because of local traditions of female seclusion.
Al-Hayat talked to Samiyah Khudair, a candidate in a Sunni province, who said “The absence of the female element from the polling stations is a sick phenomenon that has afflicted Iraqi society after the Occupation, as a result of the collapse of confidence among citizens of both sexes in the security situation, which can deteriorate badly at any moment despite the most stringent measures.”