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Entries in Ali al-Lami (2)


Iraq: What Do Latest Post-Election Power Plays Indicate? (Cole) 

Juan Cole cuts through the confusion to offer the latest developments in the post-election struggle to lead Iraq. Many useful points here, including:

1. No individual, party, or list "won" the 7 March election, since no one has even one-third of the Parliamentary seats. The battle is now to form a working coalition amongst the various parties.

2. While these maneovures include meetings between Iraqi political actors in Tehran, this does not mean that Tehran will control or dominate any emerging Iraqi Government.

3. And a point made through absence in this account: although the US has an interest in this contest, there is little sign of the Americans in these latest moves.

The Justice and Accountability Commission (formerly the Debaathification Commission), headed by Ahmad Chalabi, is moving to disqualify 6 elected candidates in the 7 March election for their ties to the banned Baath Party of Saddam Hussein. Three of those to be banned are from the Iraqiya list of [former Prime Minister] Iyad Allawi, which would reduce his seat total from 91 to 88, making his list second in number of seats after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, which has 89 seats.

The move, by commission head Ahmad Chalabi (himself an elected MP on the fundamentalist Shiite list, the Iraqi National Alliance), will cause a lot of anger among Sunni Arabs, the main backers of Allawi's list, along with secular middle class urban Shiites.

Al-Hayat writing in Arabic reports that commission official Ali al-Lami let it slip that one of those to be disqualified is Hamdi Najm, leader of the National Dialogue Front in Diyala Province, who is currently in prison on terrorism charges. His party forms part of the Iraqiya list of Iyad Allawi. The disqualifications will be taken to court. However, the courts sided with the Justice and Accountability Commission when it excluded candidates on these grounds in the lead-up to the election, so that avenue does not appear very promising.

But the move is not decisive in deciding the next prime minister, because who can form a government depends not on who has a plurality but on who can put together a governing coalition. It is true that the constitution requires the president to ask the leader of the single largest bloc to form a government. But if that person cannot, then another party leader would get the chance. The best analogy for Iraqi politics at the moment is Israel or Lebanon. In the 2009 parliamentary elections in Israel, Tzipi Livni's Kadima gained 28 seats and Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud only got 27. But you will note that Netanyahu is prime minister, because Shas, Yisrael Beitenu and others preferred to ally with him rather than with Ms. Livni.

I admit to a good deal of frustration with the corporate media in the United States that keeps talking about Iyad Allawi "winning" the Iraqi parliamentary elections. It just is not true. Apparently even some well informed and intelligence Americans can't understand the difference between achieving a slight plurality and winning a parliamentary election.

You need 163 seats to have a majority in the 325-member Iraqi parliament, so neither 91 nor 89 is a "win." Rather, 163 is a win. Allawi did not win and has not won and probably won't win.

The reason is that it is difficult to see how he gets to 163. He needs 72 more seats (or maybe 75 if the disqualifications go through). It is easier for al-Maliki's list, if not al-Maliki himself, to get to 163 seats than it is for Allawi, since the fundamentalist Shiites have 70 seats and they under normal circumstances will find it easier to ally with Maliki's Islamic Mission Party (Da'wa) than with the secular Arab nationalists and Sunnis that back Allawi.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that 'informed sources' told its reporters that Ali al-Adib, a leader of al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, recently met Muqtada al-Sadr in Qom, Iran, though they have not yet closed a deal. Al-Sadr has 38 seats in parliament and his bloc is the largest single group of seats in the Shiite fundamentalist Iraqi National Alliance, which has 70 seats. Then, al-Maliki is said to have returned to Baghdad from Tehran, accompanied by al-Adib and Abdul Hamid al-Zuhairi (both from the State of Law list) and Jalal al-Din al-Saghir and Hadi al-Amiri of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Al-Maliki is said to have been among a big party of Iraqi officials in Tehran the day before yesterday. They went there, al-Hayat said, because there was too much danger of being listened in on in Iraq. Presumably what is actually being asserted here is that the US has sophisticated signals intelligence and has widely tapped phones, so that in Baghdad any attempt at coalition-formation would be immediately picked up by US intelligence. Since the US is widely thought to be backing Allawi's secular Iraqiya list, it would be undesirable from al-Maliki's point of view for them to overhear his negotiations with other lists. Thus, they went off to Iran.

Al-Hayat's source says that Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrated flexibility, and demanded in return for dropping his objection to al-Maliki the release of all prisoners from his movement, and undertakings that al-Maliki would not attempt to rule single-handedly. He also wanted an agreement that al-Maliki would be fired if he attempted to overstep the decided-up course of action of the party. A Sadrist leader, Qusay Suhail, refused to comment on the Iran story, but did allow as how the Sadrists had met with representatives of al-Maliki's State of Law. The source said that so far in the negotiations the Kurdistan Alliance and the Sadr Movement have declined to put forward an alternative candidate for prime minister. So far al-Maliki is the only candidate from the Shiite parties, "and we did not sense any opposition to him." In contrast, cleric Jalal al-Din Saghir of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq insisted that ISCI would definitely put forward a prime ministerial candidate. (ISCI is actually too small to follow through on Saghir's bluster.)

Iraq Election Watch: Bombings and Political Intrigues

As early voting begins in Sunday's national elections, Iraq has been beset by bombings: the toll from three suicide attacks in Baquba on Wednesday is now 33 dead and 42 injured, and a suicide bomber has killed three and injured 15 today at a Baghdad polling station.

Meanwhile, Juan Cole rounds up the latest political manoeuvres:

Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that it has gotten hold of an American intelligence document detailing undue Iranian influence in Iraq and in the Iraqi elections. The document says that Ahmad Chalabi and Ali al-Lami, influential members of the 'Jusice and Accountability Committee' in charge of purging Baathists from public life, met repeatedly with Iranian officials last fall. Among those they met were Qasim Sulaimani, head of the special forces Jerusalem (Quds) Brigade and the Iranian foreign minister. US Commanding General in Iraq, Ray Odierno, charged that Iran was behind the campaign to disqualify over 500 alleged Baathists from running in Iraq's March 7 parliamentary, and this document seems to lend some credence to the allegation.

Anxiety among US officials about Iran's influence, especially via militias such as the Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq, is underlined by Washington Post today.

AP alleges that Iran is responsible behind the scenes for getting the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr Movement form a coalition, the National Iraqi Alliance.

Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer asks if Iraq is really a democracy, and comes up with a resounding 'No!' She gives as evidence the repeated arbitrary arrests of a Sunni Arab young man who served as a whistle-blower on Shiite militia ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in his neighborhood. She also quotes Ali Allawi on the lack of effective checks and balances.

Early voting begins today in Iraq for members of the armed services, hospital patients, and others who are prevented from getting to the polls on Sunday. Nearly a million persons are expected to cast a ballot on Thursday.

Some newspapers are asking whether the Sunni Arabs will flex their muscles in this election.. They may, but only if they do not vote on a sectarian basis. If Sunnis can make themselves an indispensable constituent of secular parties supported by Shiite urban middle classes, they can get some leverage. Otherwise, Iraq's parliament at the moment has only one chamber, and electing explicitly Sunni Arab slates dooms them to insignificance, since they will only have a fifth of seats in parliament. Sunni Arabs in Iraq's parliament will always be outvoted on an issue of national significance.

In something less than a resounding vote of confidence in the electoral progress, the Shiite grand ayatollahs said Tuesday that they are genuinely afraid of ballot fraud in the March 7 parliamentary elections.

The Iraqi government is now saying that the appearance of the name of Muqtada al-Sadr on an arrest list was an error, and that no attempt will in fact be make to take him into custody. (Sadr is now studing in seminary in Qom, Iran.]