Bush Loses Election in Iraq

Shiites, Kurds, win Big

Juan Cole

02/13/05 "ICH" --  Some key election results are now being reported for Iraq. The statistics available point to about 8.4 million voters out of an eligible 14 million, a turnout of 60% (a little higher than the 57% that was the last guess of the electoral commission).

The Sunni Arabs (20 percent of the population and the former ruling group) mostly did not come out to vote. Only 2 percent voted in Anbar province, where Fallujah and Ramadi are. (Remember Condoleeza Rice talking about people voting in Fallujah? That was propaganda pure and simple.) In Ninevah province about 17 percent of the population voted, but a lot of those were Kurds and Turkmen. The list of old-time Sunni Arab nationalist Adnan Pachachi, the Independent Democrats, only received 17,000 votes, not enough to seat him or any of his other party members in parliament. Interim President Ghazi al-Yawir's Iraqiyun list got less than 2 percent and probably will only get 4 or 5 seats in the 275-member parliament. Al-Yawir is from the largely Sunni Shamar tribe.

The three big winners were the United Iraqi Alliance (over 48 percent), the Kurdistan alliance (26 percent) and the Iraqiyah list of interim prime minister Iyad Allawi (a little over 13 percent). With their decimal fractions, these three account for 89 percent of the seats in parliament, or so. The other eleven percent go to tiny parties like that of al-Yawir, the Sadrists (Cadres and Chosen List) and the Communists.

Although Allawi's list is among the three with more than two digits, in fact he lost big. Allawi had all the advantages of incumbency. He dominated the air waves in December and January. He went to Baghdad University and made all sorts of promises to the students there and it was dutifully broadcast, and there were lots of photo ops like that. Allawi's list also spent an enormouos amount on campaign advertising. The source of these millions is unknown, since Paul Bremer passed a law making disclosure of campaign contributions unnecessary (the Bush administration's further little contribution to "democracy" in the Middle East). Despite these enormous advantages, clear American backing, money, etc., Allawi's list came in a poor third and clearly lacks any substantial grass roots in most of the country. It seems to have been the refuge of what is left of the secular middle class.

Allawi's defeat (he will not be prime minister in the new government) is a huge defeat for the Bush administration, though it will not be reported that way in the corporate media.

The system is set up so that a two-thirds majority is necessary to form a government. The United Iraqi Alliance needs to pick up 18 percent or about 50 seats to go forward. The easy place to get those 50 seats is from the Kurds, who have 70 or so. This step will require that substantial concessions be made to the Kurds, who want the presidency, a redrawing of the provincial map of Iraq to creat a united Kurdistan province, and substantial provincial autonomy or "states rights."

The US now hopes to use the Kurds to blunt the push for Islamic law from the UIA. This is the significance of Allawi's visit to Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and his support for Talabani as president. The Kurds and Allawi together control nearly 40 percent of seats in parliament. They can be outvoted on many issues, but they can't be ignored. Allawi is trying to ensure that Talabani's position is unassailable and to pressure the UIA to give up its own candidates for president, so as to bloc any rush to Islamic law.

Ironically, Talabani is extremely close to Tehran and has been a client of the Iranians for many years. His alliance with the UIA will ensure warm relations between the new Iraq and Iran. The US, in pushing for Talabani for Iraqi domestic reasons, is creating a Baghdad-Tehran axis in regional politics.

Although a two-thirds majority is required to form the government, it is not clear that it is required for anything else in ordinary parliamentary life. Most measures can probably be passed with 51 percent. This would mean that on some laws and other measures, the United Iraqi Alliance could have its way in parliament by just picking up 3 percent of the seats via an alliance with smaller parties such as the Sadrists. So although they need the Kurds at first, they may not always need them subsequently.

The United Iraqi Alliance will press hard for implementation of Islamic law. Although this move will be a hard sell in the national parliament because the Kurds don't want it, one possible compromise would be to let individual provinces make the decision, as in Nigeria.

Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan

Copyright: Juan Cole

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