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Entries in Juan Cole (6)


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.)

"Iran at a Crossroads": Scott Lucas Speaks in Washington

UPDATE 9 MARCH: I'm setting off in a few hours. Iran updates will be lighter than usual  until Saturday, but we will keep our eyes on events and try and keep you posted. And, of course, our readers --- thanks to all of you for advice for this trip --- can be relied upon to provide information and comment.

have been invited to speak next Wednesday  at "Iran at a Crossroads", a hearing organised by the National Iranian American Council  at the US Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. The event, sponsored by US Senators and including statements from US Congressman, is expected to draw an audience of legislators, government officials, and journalists, as well as the general public.

The event will be live-streamed from 9 a.m. local time(1400 GMT) at NIACInsight.

9:30 AM-9:45 AM


Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (CA-14)

9:45 AM-10:15 AM

Congressman Keith Ellison (MN-5)

10:15 AM-11:30 AM


Prof. Shireen Hunter

Visiting Fellow, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Prof. Scott Lucas

Professor, University of Birmingham, UK, Editor, Enduring America Blog

Prof. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak

Director, Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute Center for Persian Studies, University of Maryland


Neil MacFarquhar

New York Times

12:00 PM-12:15 PM


Congressman Mike Honda (CA-15)

12:15 PM-1:30 PM


Prof. Juan Cole

Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan

Amb. Robert Hunter

Senior Advisor, RAND Corporation

Prof. Muhammad Sahimi

Professor, University of Southern California


Dr. Trita Parsi

President, National Iranian American Council

1:30pm – 1:45 pm

Dr. Trita Parsi

President, National Iranian American Council

The Latest from Iran (9 March): Political Acts

1500 GMT: But Mahmoud, What If No One's Home? Here's a better story than the Khatami rumour....

On Monday President Ahmadinejad was totally disrespected when Afghan President Hamid Karzai who told Mahmoud to stay home (US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was suddenly in town, and Americans and Iranians at the same time in Kabul just wouldn't do). So Iranian state media carried the story that Ahmadinejad's office had not said "Monday" but "this week". The meeting with Karzai would now be on Wednesday.

Which would be fine except Karzai's people are reportedly saying that the Afghan President will be in Pakistan on Wednesday.

So what's up? Is it a three-way get-together in Islamabad or will Ahmadinejad's office have to clarify "not this week, next week".

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The Latest from Iran (8 March): Foreign Affairs

1445 GMT: Khatami Watch. Yes, we have read the rumours that former President Mohammad Khatami has been barred from leaving Iran. The source is Fars News, so status remains at rumour or disinformation --- Khatami's camp have denied the report.

1430 GMT: Human Rights Front. Student activists Abdollah Momeni and Majid Tavakoli, are this year's recipients of the Homo Homini Award, awarded annually by the Czech-based People in Need "in recognition of a dedication to the promotion of human rights, democracy, and nonviolent solutions to political conflicts".

Momeni was released this week on $800,000 bail after more than six months in jail, including reportedly about 100 days in solitary confinement. Iranian He has received a six-year jail sentence, which is being appealed.

Tavakoli was arrested at the 7 December National Student Day demonstrations. The regime attempted to humiliate him by disseminating photographs of him dressed in hijab.

1230 GMT: Dangerous Papers (cont.). An Iranian activist reports the press board's warning was handed out to the reformist publication Bahar for carrying an article about the mysterious changing colours of the Iranian flag.

1210 GMT: Newsflash! Even Football Can Be Dangerous. Mehr News Agency reports that Iran's press supervisory board has warned 17 publications over alleged breaches of media regulations.

Mohammad Ali Ramin, the Deputy Minister of Culture who has been widely criticised for his hard line against the media, said the publications were "not committed to journalistic duties, breached media regulations, printed superficial materials, and propagated materialism".

The leading reformist daily, Bahar (Spring), is accused of having published "rumours and lies".

The other 16 journals warned were: Nasl Emrouz, Banu Shargi, Ayne Zendegi, Payamavar, Sepidar, Pishkhan, Zendegi Irani, Medad Rangi, Zendegi Edeal, Ruiesh, Kohenoor, Tohid, Rahe Zendegi, Sinamaye Emrouz, Chelcheragh, and Football.

1150 GMT: The Nuclear Deal. For the second day in a row, Iran's Foreign Ministry has signalled that the "third-party enrichment" option --- which resurfaced during Ali Larijani's recent trip to Japan --- is still alive. Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday that Iran's "priority is to obtain fuel" for a Tehran medical research reactor.

Mehmanparast assured, "If the [International Atomic Energy] Agency suggests a country in possession of the 20-percent enriched fuel, we are ready to buy [the fuel]. Besides, if there are countries ready for a swap which will fulfill our conditions, we are ready; otherwise, we will produce the fuel [ourselves]."

1135 GMT: Women's Day (cont.). The association of Iranian female journalists, RUZA, has issued a declaration stating that release of imprisoned women is its first goal.

Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Mir Hossein Mousavi, met women's organisations yesterday, commemorating Neda and other victims of post-election conflict.

1130 GMT: One to Watch? There has been an increase in tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran, with protests in front of the Azeri Embassy in Tabriz and the burning of the Azeri flag. Good relations between Azerbaijan and Israel have been mentioned as a possible cause.

1120 GMT: Keeping the Universities in Line. Is the regime getting nervous about renewed public resistance at the universities? First, Minister of Higher Education Kamran Daneshjoo issued a warning to "deviant professors". Now Revolutionary Guard commander Rahim Savafi has declared that the universities are "empty" of elites faithful to the Supreme Leader and Constitution.

0930 GMT: Still Protesting. While university demonstrations have been muted since December, that does not mean that dissent has been quelled. A group of Tehran University students has put out the message: "If 'their' power relies on their guns, ours is that we are countless."

0920 GMT: Today's Media Head-for-the-Hills Moment. The New York Times is back to its red alert over Iran's nuclear programme, this time with a lengthy piece on the country's uranium enrichment process.

To be fair to reporter William Broad, his article is mainly an overview of both the possibilities and the limitations of Iran's nuclear programme. However, whoever wrote the headline missed the subtleties and/or preferred Panic Mode, "For Iran, Enriching Uranium Only Gets Easier".

0915 GMT: Here's some political theatre for you. The head of Iran's judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, has made a dramatic intervention with his claim of high-level embezzlement and corruption within the Government. Mr Verde has an analysis.

0820 GMT: Catching Up With the Political Poses and Other News.

Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani has hurled the label of "thugocracy", used by US General David Petraeus in a Sunday interview, back at the "goons" of the American Government: "It is understandable that they hate people with the knowledge of the region joining us today, so they use offensive words."

Juan Cole has an interesting analysis of President Ahmadinejad's declaration that the US Government created the "lie" of 9-11 to support its international plans, going farther into Ahmadinejad's religious beliefs:
Not only is Ahmadinejad the Iranian equivalent of a truther, he is also the mirror image of the Christian Zionists. That brand of evangelicals in the US believes that the establishment of Israel throughout geographical Palestine, i.e. the complete annexation of the West Bank and perhaps the expulsion of its Palestinian residents, will hasten the return of Christ.

Ahmadinejad holds the opposite. It is in his view the collapse of what he calls the Zionist regime and the emergence of a state for all Palestinians, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, that will provoke the Promised One to come. In Shiite Islam, the promised one is the return of the 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, the lineal descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Day After the Iraq Election: "Politics Takes Over"

1220 GMT: The excellent analyst Marc Lynch has just made the immediate point, "All the Iraqi lists appear to be claiming victory. I'd wait for official results, which will be a while." His comment comes a few hours after a CNN correspondent pondered, "Each TV station corresponding to each political bloc saying that they are the winners...hmmm...."

The “Violent Semi-Peace”: Elections in Iraq, Escalation in Afghanistan
Iraq LiveBlog: Election Day

This is the real politics of Iraq, a day after the headlines of bombings and "democracy". With no party in the position to establish a national majority and indeed, outside Kurdistan, even a regional dominance, the negotiations, coercions, and manipulations take over, even before the preliminary results are announced on Thursday.

In Kurdistan, there is an intriguing contest between the Kurdistan List --- made up of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Kurdish Prime Minister Masoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Iraq President Jalal Talabani --- and the Gorran Party, established to break the stranglehold of the KDP and PUK on Kurdish politics. An activist says that Gorran narrowly won in the city of Suleymaniyah and lost in province of the same name; however, Gorran is claiming fraud in the provincial vote. Another activist says that Gorran has also secured seats in Diyala, Mosul, and Salahaddin; however, the Kurdistan List has triumphed by a 2:1 margin in Erbil.

Juan Cole offers an overview:

Sunday's vote for a new parliament in Iraq on Sunday could result in two possible geopolitical futures for that country.

If the Iraqi National List of former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi did well enough to come to power, that would reorient Iraq radically, taking it back in some ways to 2002. Allawi's coalition is largely made up of Arab nationalists who would see Iran as a threat and would ally with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Baghdad would go back to helping contain Iran. Sunni Arab radicalism would likely be tamped down. For Washington, it would be the best of all possible worlds-- a pro-American Iraqi government headed by a former CIA asset that is willing to help pressure Iran for the West. Internally, an Allawi government that depends heavily on Sunni Arab constituencies would find it difficult to compromise with the Kurds on the disputed province of Kirkuk or on Kurdistan's interests in Ninevah and Diyala, setting the stage for a potential civil war.

If, on the other hand, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki manages to hold on to power, Iraq will remain firmly in Shiite hands, and will likely have warm relations with Tehran. Certainly, Baghdad would have no interest in helping contain Iran. Relations with Saudi Arabia will continue to be bad. As the US withdraws, Iranian influence could ramp up and fill the vacuum. Al-Maliki also has his tensions with the Kurds, but his relatively bad relations with the Sunni Arabs of Mosul mean that he could deal with the Kurds without incurring much more enmity from the Sunni Arabs than he already does.

So those are the two possibilities facing Iraq-- roughly, reintegration into the Sunni-dominated Arab League, or an Iran alliance. In a way, the choices replicate those of the 1930s, Iraq's first decade of independence from Britain. The government of PM Hikmat Sulaiman in 1936-1937 rejected Arab nationalism and developed good relations with Iran. Sulaiman was a Turkmen and he served under the military dictatorship of Bakr al-Sidqi, a Kurd. There is a sense in which the al-Maliki-Talibani condominium of the past 4 years revives many geopolitical themes of the Sulaiman-Sidqi period. Their dire enemies were the Arab nationalist officers, who were focused on Palestine and felt more kinship with Egypt than with Iran. Allawi is more in that Arab nationalist tradition, though he is by heritage a Shiite.

Here is why I think the return of Allawi as prime minister is unlikely despite an apparently strong showing for his party in the elections.

The Saudi-owned pan-Arab London daily "The Middle East" [al-Sharq al-Awsat] is reporting that its correspondents are conveying an (unscientific) impression from exit polling that the Iraqi National List of Allawi is doing extremely well in the Sunni Arab provinces, and is running a strong second in the Shiite south (Kurds in the north typically vote only for Kurdish parties.) The report is rather breathless and I think the numbers are almost certainly exaggerated. It also alleges that current prime minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition is getting 40% of votes in the Shiite south, which may be true for Baghdad and Basra (it did nearly that well in the provincial elections last year), but it would represent a major change in voting patterns in rural Shiite provinces such as Maysan and Dhi Qar.

Even so, without an unexpected landslide in the south, Allawi is unlikely to become prime minister. He will need 163 seats out of 325 to govern, and there is probably no way for his coalition to deliver them. Even leading lists will likely get less that 100 seats, and so will need post-election coalition partners. That small parties willing to ally with Allawi would have as many as 75 seats to deliver to him seems unlikely. So he'd have to deal with the big three--the State of Law, the National Iraqi Alliance, and the Kurdistan Alliance (or the Kurdistan parties generally). But they might well decline to deal with him, and could seek to exclude him instead.

Al-Maliki's State of Law list campaigned hard against the resurgence of Baathism, and Allawi and many on his list are ex-Baathists, so al-Maliki would have to eat a lot of crow to accept a junior position in an Allawi government. It seems unlikely, even if politics makes for strange bedfellows.

The Shiite religious parties grouped in the National Iraqi Alliance are said by the exit polls (for the little they are worth) to be coming in third. They are also highly unlikely to ally with Allawi, since he is an old-time CIA asset and ex-Baathist whose interim government was hostile to the Shiite religious authorities and to Iran.

Allawi appears to be attracting strong support in Ninevah Province in the north, which returned an Arab nationalist party in the provincial elections of 2009. Ninevah has a Sunni Arab majority and a Kurdish minority, but the Kurds had been dominant in provincial government and the security forces because the Sunnis had sat out the provincial elections of January 2005. There is very bad blood between the Arabs and Kurds in Ninevah.

So Allawi will find it difficult to ally with the Kurds while keeping his Sunni Arab nationalist base. But not only would he need the Kurds to get a simple majority if the other two big coalitions spurned him, but it will take a multi-party coaltion of 215 or so members of parliament to elect a president.

Whereas the numbers don't easily add up for Allawi, it seems likely that the State of Law, the Shiite fundamentalist parties of the NIA, and some smaller parties willing to join the two of them, could easily get to over 163, and they have a proven ability to work with the Kurds and independents to get to 215. In order to block this scenario, Allawi's list would have to get well over 100 seats and be united and disciplined.

As I suggested Sunday, one price al-Maliki might have to pay to gain the National Iraqi alliance as a partner is to agree to accelerate the US troop withdrawal (a key demand of the Sadr faction in the NIA).

Whatever the outcome of the voting (and a projected result based on one-third of the votes is scheduled to be announced on Wednesday), it may not be easily accepted by the losers. There is tremendous anxiety in Iraq about the possibility of ballot fraud in the wake of Sunday's parliamentary elections. The Iranian Arabic-language satellite station al-Alam reported on Sunday that the Shiite fundamentalist Sadr movement was alarmed to hear that ballot boxes were being transported from the provinces to Baghdad by US troops, and insisted that the US be kept away from those boxes. (They must have heard about Florida in 2000). Allawi is on Al Jazeera complaining about irregularities. He didn't say this, but campaigning continued through Sunday althought it was supposed to be forbidden after Friday late afternoon. In Basra, al-Hayat reports that anti-Allawi pamphlets were dropped by helicopter on Saturday and Snday.

Bottom line, another Allawi prime ministership is unlikely even if his list turns in strong performance.

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.]