Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Fudging the Numbers, or a Blood-Bath?

The leaders of the elected Sunni lists have gone crazy: they have banded with Ayad Allawi in calling for ‘civil disobedience’ following the release of the initial elections results, and things should come to a head tomorrow after Friday prayers. The leaders of 26 electoral slates, including Ayad Allawi ‘731’, Adnan Al-Duleimi ‘618’, Saleh Al-Mutlag ‘667’, Misha’an Al-Jabouri ‘516’, Ayhem Al-Samara’i ‘565’, and Hazem Al-Sha’alan ‘511’ have signed a “Charter of Honor” and set-up a new group whose Arabic acronym phonetically transcribes into ‘MARAM.’

The MARAMists reject what they call the “fraudulent initial elections results,” and call for an international investigation into the activities of the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq. They also call for convening a national conference to sort matters out. If these conditions are not met, the MARAMists (with a total of 80 seats, probably) intend to boycott the parliament while conceding that such actions “would renew the state of strife and blood-soaked violence and threaten the real existence of the Iraqi entity and the unity of its land and people.”

Introducing the MARAMists...

So, they are basically threatening civil war, and the driving forces behind this ultimatum are the Sunni candidates, even though the venue was Allawi’s HQ. Allawi himself, according to several reports that I have been unable to confirm, is actually in Washington DC—or Langley, Va.

What apparently freaked out the Sunnis was the realization that the Shias outnumbered them three to one in Baghdad, the capital. In their mind’s eye, they had always believed that Arab Iraqis were divided equally among Sunni and Shia sects. Thus, the MARAMists are essentially rejecting the notion—held by almost all experts—that the Sunnis are a minority in Iraq.

Mithal Al-Alusi refused an invitation to join the MARAMists, telling me today that "these accusations, even if valid, are irresponsible given how tense and angry people are on the street, and the situation is ready to blow."

A Shia cleric and a Shia tribal chief were both assassinated in seperate incidents in Baghdad today.

For the time being, the Sistani camp and the United Iraqi Alliance seem caught in the headlights of this approaching wreck. All they can muster is a mumbled retort of “sore losers” when describing their detractors. But then again, the price of an AK-47 has tripled in Maysan Province, near the Iranian border, and there is chatter that Iran is moving 150 armored vehicles (antiquated tanks and transports from the Iran-Iraq War) to the border for eventual delivery to the Badr Brigade. So there are some indicators that someone in the south is preparing for a confrontation. One source in Baghdad described a surreal situation today whereby he was sitting among Sunnis and an ex-officer from the restive Anbar Province was describing a military plan to conquer the holy shrine city of Karbala and trade it back to the Shias in exchange for Baghdad.

Now, had the Sunni leadership been smart, they could have entered into a coalition government with the UIA, and that would have ended the careers of American favorites such as Allawi and Chalabi. Then they could open a channel with the Americans themselves, and keep feeding them information about Iranian encroachment into the affairs of the Iraqi state through the UIA. Who would America choose at the end of the day, Saudi Arabia’s friends (the Sunnis) or Iran’s friends (the UIA)?

The behavior of the Sunni leaders shows that nothing has changed; they are not ready to compromise and share what had been their sole domain: power. They could have played it smart, but are too cocky and assured of imminent victory and at the same time they are terrified of Iran solidifying its influence.

The UIA and the Iranians had their bluff called by the MARAMists: they had overreached by cheating. This is odd since they were going to win anyway: the cheating, at worse, accounts for only %10 increase on the total tally in the most egregious incidents in the south. So instead of %75, they got %85, but what ended up happening was the whole atmosphere got poisoned and the results have been nullified to a large degree in the public perception.

And it seems that the Americans are a doing a bit of arm twisting; Baghdad was abuzz two days ago with the rumor that the Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, had been arrested by American forces on charges of allowing torture under his watch. The details as to what exactly happened are still hard to come by, but Jabr is apparently under house arrest pending further investigation. He was arrested by Iraqi police in the spring of 2004 over misinterpreted reports of stolen vehicles in his home garage, when he was Minister of Housing under the Governing Council, from what I recall. But this most recent rap sheet is a slap in the face of Iraq’s sovereignty and a clear message to Iran: “We still have 150,000 troops of the world’s finest army here, and it won’t be so easy for you to take over.”

Meanwhile though, there is an attempt by level-headed people to ease the tension, and they think that they can do this by fudging and smudging the numbers of votes tallied, and could consequently tailor a trim and prim distribution of parliamentary seats so that most sides can be placated. Under such an arrangement, Ahmad Chalabi and Mithal Al-Alusi are being promised seats. But this is extremely difficult and dangerous act of political fine-tuning that is more likely to piss off everyone rather than ameliorate the tension. It has already given electoral commission officer Izzudin Al-Muhammedi a heart attack, and sent Farid Ayar, the spokesmen, to deliver his resignation to PM Jaafari.

To confound matters further, Jaafari is not budging from his premiership seat, and Adil Abdel-Mahdi cannot deliver the Sadrists, so the UIA itself seems shaky as a coalition, and that partly explains why we haven’t heard a clear and forthright response by the Islamists to the MARAMist allegations.


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