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Entries in Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (4)


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 Special: The Outcome of the Election --- Uncertainty

The dominant headline from the uncertified results of Iraq's national elections, released this evening, will be that former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and his Iraqqiya list "won" with 91 seats, two more than the State of Law list headed by current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Don't be fooled. Since no alliance, let alone single party, won even 30 percent of the 325 seats in Iraq's Parliament, here's your headline:


Iraq: The State of the Elections (Parker and Lynch)

The three weeks waiting for this preliminary outcome are only a prelude to months of bargaining, pressuring, and promising to try and force a coalition. That brings into play the Iraqi National Alliance of predominantly "religious" Shiite parties (v. the "secular" Shi'a al-Maliki and Allawi), with 71 seats, and the alliance of Kurdistan's two dominant parties, with 43.

Reidar Visser offers this useful snap analysis on

The Iraqi elections commission, IHEC, has today released the full, uncertified results of the 7 March parliamentary elections. The distribution of the seats has been specified at the entity level for all the 325 deputies in the next assembly.

The Iraqi elections commission, IHEC, has today released the full, uncertified results of the 7 March parliamentary elections. The distribution of the seats has been specified at the entity level for all the 325 deputies in the next assembly.

The differences with the situation as reported in earlier counts (and calculated in accordance with IHEC regulation 21) are minimal. The secular-nationalist Iraqiyya (INM) comes out on top with 91 seats, followed by State of Law (SLA) headed by Nuri al-Maliki second at 89 seats, the Iraqi National Alliance at 70 seats and the Kurdistan Alliance at 43 seats (having apparently made some serious headway in the final count). The distribution of minority seats was apparently on the patternforecasted previously. [The table with distribution of seats is in Visser's original post.]

The names of the winning candidates (based on how the electorate used the open-list option to promote individuals within a list) have yet to be published; this will be done at the IHEC website and in Iraqi newspapers tomorrow. The identity of the winners of the seven compensation seats (two for each of the three big lists and one for the Kurdish list) will be withheld pending a query to the federal supreme court about the rules for their allocation to individuals.

Ayad Allawi and Iraqiyya now go strengthened into the coalition-forming process. By winning more seats than expected south of Baghdad and almost as many seats as Maliki in Baghdad, Allawi has proved that he is more than "the candidate of the Sunnis" (which was always implausible given his own Shiite background). However, the two parties that are closest to each other on many key constitutional issues (and maybe the most promising combination to get an oil law passed anytime soon), Iraqiyya and State of Law, remain at odds with each other mainly due to differences at the personal level between their leaders. In this kind of situation, probably the most logical step for Iraqiyya would be to explore the possibility of a deal with the Kurds that balances some solid concessions to Arbil with preservation of Iraqi nationalist ideals as far as the structure of government south of Kurdistan is concerned. Additional support could come either from Shiite Islamists who share the view of Iraqiyya on the importance of a centralised state in the rest of Iraq (for example the Sadrists), or, alternatively, all the small blocs in parliament joined together with Iraqiyya and the Kurds (166 seats). It is to be hoped that the ideologically contradictive scheme of a deal with ISCI (the pro-Iranian decentralist Shiite party with which Iraqiyya only shares certain ties at the personal level) will be avoided, since it would mean another oversized, ineffective government populated by parties with little in common. At any rate, ISCI now has diminishing cloutwithin INA.

Also, some uncertainty has been added to the mix due to a ruling by the federal supreme court yesterday which explicitly makes it clear that the key definition of "the largest bloc in parliament" (which is supposed to form the next government) can also include post-election bloc formation. This in turn breathes new life into the scenario preferred by Iran of the two Shiite-led blocs, INA and SLA, joining together to a single big entity, on the pattern of what happened in 2004/2005. Talks about this has come to the fore again over the last weeks as Maliki gradually realised that his ambition of going it alone, separate from the other Shiites, was not going to be fulfilled quite in the way he had foreseen. It would, however, require considerable recalibration within Shiite circles, since the Sadrists are likely to overshadow ISCI in the INA contingent, and they are not known to be keen on a second Maliki premiership. Nonetheless, the mere fact that this option is now being talked about at all signifies the big irony of these elections: Ali Faysal al-Lami, the de-Baathification director, both lost and won them to some extent. He got just a few hundred personal votes for INA in Baghdad, and will not win a seat in parliament. But through his witch hunt he forced Maliki into a more sectarian corner, and thereby prevented him from winning much-needed support north of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the next procedural step is of a simpler character: The results will have to be formally certified in the Iraqi legal system. Only then will the clock for government formation start ticking in a formal sense. Upon certification of the results, the current president, Jalal Talabani, must call on the new national assembly to convene within fifteen days. At that point, the council will have to elect a speaker with two deputies. In theory, that election is separate from the government formation, although it seems likely that whoever is forming the next government will want allies to fill those posts: With the control of the parliamentary agenda that comes with them, they are going to be more important during the next four years than the office of the president, which now becomes a more ceremonial position. The new president, in turn, is to be elected within 30 days of the first parliamentary meeting. The constitution stipulates an aspiration of a two thirds majority for the election of the president but allows for a simple-majority run-off in case that requirement should prove elusive. This in turn means that it is the 163 mark that needs to be met in order to secure the election of the president and thereby get the government-formation process on track in earnest, with a deadline of another fifteen days for the president to formally charge the nominee of the biggest parliamentary bloc to form a government within another thirty days. In other words, if certification takes place around 1 April, a meeting of the new parliament must be held within 15 April, a new president must be elected within 15 May, a PM nominee must be identified by 1 June, and a new cabinet must be presented for approval of parliament before 1 July. The psychological deadline is likely to be the start of Ramadan around 10 August and the scheduled completion of withdrawal of US combat troops by 31 August.

Iraq: So What Do the Elections Mean (So Far)?

As we noted yesterday, the Sunday vote in Iraq now gives way to party propaganda and behind-the-scenes haggling and power plays, although a lot of the manoeuvres will be reshaped by the preliminary outcome when it is announced later this week.

Yesterday Iraq's electoral commission reported that 62.4 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, with rates of 50 to 80 percent across the provinces. Still too early to tell where the outcome is heading, amidst conflicting (and self-serving) claims from the parties.

On Monday, Marc Lynch offered this sharp, incisive reading, which I think holds for the post-election period as well as for the vote. This line jumped out at me --- "[A] headline of the Iraqi election campaign has to be the overwhelmingly nationalist tone of all major politicians and the marginal American role in the process":

Iraq's election day went off remarkably well.

Despite some scattered and tragic violence, there was nothing like the kind of devastating violence threatened by a few insurgent groups and only scattered reports of problems in the electoral process. The de-Baathification shenanigans of Chalabi and al-Lami did some long-lasting damage to the credibility of state institutions and the rule of law, but not enough to cripple the elections. The relatively calm election day was overseen, it's worth emphasizing, by Iraqi security forces and not by U.S. troops -- something which I was often informed, over the last year, couldn't possibly happen. It did. This is simply excellent news, and a credit to the emerging capability of the Iraqi state. So now that election day is past, what now?

First, don't rush to speculate on who won or what it means. All the Iraqi lists are loudly claiming victory, but the truth is that no official (or even unofficial) results yet seem to exist. The anecdotal evidence still points to the pre-election speculation -- [current Prime Minister Nuri] Maliki on top, [Ayad] Allawi a strong second, the ISCI/Sadrist Shi'a list fading -- but it's only anecdotal. It does make a difference who comes out on top, and who becomes Prime Minister - Maliki and Allawi, for instance, would have very different styles, as would Chalabi or some such. But at the same time, there's almost certainly going to be a coalition of some kind (fully inclusive or otherwise) and the differences probably won't be as stark as some people expect.

Everybody has been predicting that the post-election coalition maneuvering will be long and painful, and could create the kind of security and political vaccuum which caused so many problems in the first half of 2006. I suspect that this is wrong. Iraqis learned from that experience, and they've been spending the last half-year gaming out coalition scenarios. I think that we'll see some intense political jockeying, with escalating warnings of disaster which lead to some worried op-eds about how the U.S. must get involved to resolve the conflict. And then it will resolve itself, likely within a month. I could be wrong -- lord knows, Iraq is hard to predict -- but that's my sense. Check back in a month and we'll see.

The other main headline of the Iraqi election campaign has to be the overwhelmingly nationalist tone of all major politicians and the marginal American role in the process. The election campaign (as opposed to the results, which we still don't know) showed clearly that Iraqis are determined to seize control of their own future and make their own decisions. The U.S. ability to intervene productively has dramatically receded, as the Obama administration wisely recognizes. The election produced nothing to change the U.S. drawdown schedule, and offered little sign that Iraqis are eager to revise the SOFA [Status of Forces Agreement] or ask the U.S. to keep troops longer. Iraq is in Iraqi hands, and the Obama administration is right both to pay close attention and to resist the incessant calls to "do more." This doesn't mean ignoring Iraq -- the truth is, the Obama administration has been paying a lot more attention to Iraq than the media has over the last year. It means moving to develop a normal, constructive strategic relationship with the new Iraqi government, with the main point of contact the Embassy and the private sector rather than the military, and adhering in every way possible to the SOFA and to the drawdown timeline.

Follow the Middle East Channel for a lot of analysis of the Iraqi election in the coming days!

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.]