Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Iraq’s Inevitable Cluster-F*ck

This is the definition of a Cluster F*ck for all you squeamish people out there and I believe the term is apt for this blog entry.

It was a phenomenal election: not that some eleven million Iraqis came out to vote, but that they managed to turn the act of choosing their political affiliation into an allegory for civil war.

For 95% of the population, each voted according to his or her sect or race. Iraq’s Shia did not vote as a confident majority: they followed the voting pattern of a ghettoized minority still scarred from many years of dictatorship. Rather than think for themselves and exercise their individual right to choose, they have abdicated this responsibility in favor of their behemoth communal shepherd: Grand Ayatollah Sistani. This behavior is dangerous, and it marks the prelude to all-out civil war.

Apart from the United Iraqi Alliance list (no. ‘555’), the Consensus list (sometimes called ‘Accordance’ list in the western media, no. ‘618’) and the Kurdish list (no. ‘730’), the next contenders in line, Allawi’s ‘731’ and Saleh Al-Mutlag’s ‘667,’ got puny numbers that probably would not afford them more than 35 seats between them. According to multiple sources and some slight extrapolation, I’m predicting the following approximate distribution:

UIA: 130 (likely to increase slightly, includes satellite Sadrist lists)
Consensus: 45 (likely to increase slightly)
Kurdish: 55
Allawi: 20 (likely to decrease slightly)
Mutlag: 15 (likely to decrease slightly)

Mithal Al-Alusi will probably walk away with two seats. Ahmad Chalabi—in the rosiest scenario—would get two seats.

Chalabi’s performance was particularly disappointing: in 10 polling station in his home town of Kazimiyah (approximately 20,000), his slate received only 320 votes, according to a well-placed source.

Al-Alusi is registering at fourth or fifth place in most areas of Iraq, but even that translates into a small proportion of the votes: in the whole of Province of Karbala, Al-Alusi only got 4,000 votes.

The vast majority of the out-of-country votes cast (around 310,000) seem to be in favor of the UIA and the Kurdish slates.

The formation of the government will turn into a stomach-churning nightmare of brinkmanship and heightened tension at a time when sectarian and racial battle-lines have been clearly drawn in the sand.

I believe that Allawi is out of the picture at this point: he cannot form a coalition composed of his block, the Sunnis and the Kurds and get his cabinet to pass the 50% mark of parliamentary approval. And so, a notorious political career is folded.

Which leaves two rivals in the UIA block: current-PM Ibrahim Jaafari and current-VP Adel Abdel-Mahdi. Jaafari is an obstinate man who never knows when to call it a day, and he will argue that the victory at the poll was a vote of confidence in his administration. He will not even entertain the thought that Sistani’s opaque endorsement was the contributing factor to the survival of his dismal political career. He will also not realize that the Kurds would do everything they can to scuttle his chances. Abdel-Mahdi, a favorite of the Kurds, would be lurking in the shadows, but he is hobbled by antipathy from the Sadrist/Fadhila block—the largest component within the UIA.

The Sunnis, who have been howling ‘wolf’ about the abuses of Jaafari’s government, cannot stand before their constituency (who happen to carry guns and are prone to shooting them…) and counsel a rapprochement with the likes of Al-Hakim.

Unless something as random as the Kurds demanding the post of Prime Minister happens, a consensus Shia candidate will have to emerge. Too many people now recognize that Hussain Shahrestani is a little ‘cuckoo’ after his public stint as Vice-Speaker of the defunct National Assembly. And so, there remains one candidate: Ahmad Chalabi.

But Chalabi would have needed to win five seats independently in order not to be embarrassed at the polls: he needed to demonstrate that he has something of a base, which is clearly not the case. He enters the next parliamentary session to the sound of sneering and cajoling from long-time and envious political rivals, which in a sad way is ironic, since Chalabi is the reason why all those politicians are now in Baghdad—the former realm of Saddam Hussein.

I also predict that the US government is not going to help things by pushing a triumphant UIA block to bend over backwards for the Sunnis, especially on hot-button issues like de-Ba’athification and altering the constitution. The mullahs of next-door Iran, the real patrons of the UIA, are not interested in striking a deal with the Americans, and would love, more than anything, to have Iraq bubble over at this point.

Whichever way I look at this situation, I find it to be very bad. Hey, miracles can happen, right? For now, I suggest anyone in Baghdad should stock-up on liquor: it’s going to be a long four years.

UPDATE: Some have called to say that the above post is too depressing. I agree: let's hope that my sources are completely off-the-mark and that all the numbers I've been hearing are wrong. After all, didn't a usually sober and credible source in the Chalabi camp tell me that they've got 280,000 votes in Baghdad with only half the ballots counted? Chalabi's list is counting on 13 to 18 seats in the parliament. Maybe the INC people are right...That would be a nice thought to have as I'm going to sleep. But my gut instinct tells me to trust my own guys on the ground, and accept the harsh fact that the Islamists have carried the day.

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