Political violence spiked in Iraq during February ahead of the March 7 elections, with an 80% increase in deaths and casualties over January of this year. Some 352 civilians, policemen and troops were killed, along with about 50 anti-government guerrillas. Over 600 persons were wounded.
Tensions between the Kurdistan leadership and the governor of nearby Ninevah province, Athil al-Nujayfi, are near to boiling over, according to the CSM. Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani has threatened to issue an arrest warrant against Nujayfi. Ninevah is mostly Arab, but has a Kurdish minority. Nujayfi, who leads the al-Hadba Party that gained 50 percent of the seats on the provincial council in Jan. 2009, is a secular Arab nationalist and has feuded with the minority Kurds on the provincial council. Because Sunni Arabs boycotted the provincial elections of 2005 and because the US installed Kurds in the police and security forces, Kurds had been disproportionately powerful in Ninevah, parts of which the Kurdistan Regional Government would like to annex to its Kurdish super-province. As a leader of resurgent Sunni Arab nationalism, Nujayfi forms a direct challenge to that Kurdish project.
Al-Hayat writing in Arabic says that tribal chieftains in Diyala Province east of Baghdad are complaining that the al-Maliki government has not condemned what they termed US military attacks on Diyala towns and villages. The most egregious of these was an incident in Miqdadiya where US military personnel, presumably trainers accompanying Iraqi units, came under small arms fire and returned it. The son of the leader of the Zuhayri clan was killed in the crossfire. It is not clear when this happened, but al-Hayat says that the US military admitted and error and apologized. Joint US-Iraqi security operations are on-going in Diyala province. The Diyala notables said that they wanted the US military man responsible for the death to be turned over to Iraq for trial.
After having earlier condemned the idea of a government of national unity, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has abruptly begun speaking of just that. He said that when next Sunday’s parliamentary elections are over, his State of Law coalition may well seek talks about a parliamentary alliance with the Shiite religious parties of the National Iraqi Alliance, led by Ammar al-Hakim, and with the Kurds in parliament. (To elect a president in the Iraqi parliament requires a two-thirds majority, whereas to elect a prime minister and to keep his cabinet in power requires only 51 percent. Al-Maliki will therefore have a strong motivation to ally with fellow religious Shiites. In order to get to two-thirds to elect a president, the Shiite religious parties will need allies, and the Kurds are a less controversial choice for them than the secular or Sunni parties. Although some Shiite leaders in the Iraqi National Alliance are reluctant to ally with al-Maliki,in the end they may have no choice if they are not to sit in the opposition.
To form a government and remain prime minister, al-Maliki needs an alliance of 163 seats that will consistently vote with him. The Kurdistan parties will probably have 50 or so, and the Shiite State of Law and National Iraqi Alliance coalitions should have 110 between them. In fact, al-Maliki’s polling suggests that his State of Law may gain as many as 100 seats all by itself, making it easy to form a government. But for reasons I gave last Thursday, I don’t think it is likely that the State of Law will in fact have a third of seats in parliament, and I see it as far more plausible that al-Maliki and al-Hakim will reunite the religious Shiites after the election. In the US, the two major parties create coalitions before the public votes, whereas in parliamentary systems such as Iraq, the coalition-building is done after the election.
Meanwhile, Iraqi vice president Tariq al-Hashimi campaigned among the some 200,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan on Sunday, the majority of whom is Sunni Arabs. He urged them to vote for change and an end to sectarianism. (He is a member of the secular-leaning Iraqi National List led by Iyad Allawi, though he had previously been active in the Iraqi Islamic Party, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood).
End/ (Not Continued)