Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Some Thoughts on the Election Results

Chalabi’s Delusions: Whereas the Chalabi camp is still maintaining that they got about 15 seats in the next parliament, most indicators from Iraq today stress that these assertions are not true. Unless, of course, the Chalabi block is cheating at one stage of the vote counting process. But most of the initials hand counts from all over southern and central Iraq show an extremely weak showing for the INC, and its two ‘shadow lists.’ These so-called ‘shadow lists’—no. ‘829’ headed by Abdel-Aziz Al-Kubaisi and no. ‘673’ headed by Abdel-Aziz Al-Wandawi—were supposed to decant some support from Allawi’s lot among secular Iraqis who wouldn’t vote for Chalabi due to a variety of reasons; sectarian background, class identity, personal animosity…etc. There is even one source claiming that Chalabi had received less than 2,000 votes in all of Western Baghdad (out of 600,000)—a claim that I find less and less outlandish as more projected results come in.

The Islamic Republic of Iraq: Many factors contributed to the United Iraq Alliance victory at the polls:

1-Sistani’s Edict: This was the doing of Muhammad Ridha Sistani, the Grand Ayatollah’s son, and it was first reported here at Talisman Gate on November 27. Through mosque sermons and catchy jingles, the Shia faithful got the message that voting against ‘Haydar’s Candle’ would anger Imam Ali. [‘Haydar’s Candle’: Haydar is an alternate name for Imam Ali, and the ballot symbol of the UIA list no. 555 was a candle, the same as the January election.]

2-Undeclared Civil War: Shia-Sunni tensions are at historical highs, and Shia voters still feel vulnerable and insecure as to their political future, so they voted UIA to spite the Sunnis who have been waging a low-level campaign of extermination against Shias in mixed areas. Seemingly, the Sunni leadership such as the likes of Saleh Al-Mutlag, who is particularly hated among the Shia, keep pointing the finger at SCIRI’s Badr Brigade for any retaliatory actions targeting the Sunni population, and the communal antipathy is so acute that the Shias would band together with Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim just to piss off the Sunnis. Iraqi Shias were unconcerned with deteriorating basic services under Jaafari as they headed to the polls; they could live with little electricity and water, but they can’t go on looking over their shoulders for a suicide bomber whenever they do grocery shopping.

3-Aljazeera’s Godsend: The fluke occurrence of an anti-liberation Iraqi commentator called Fadhil Al-Rubaiee appearing on one of Aljazeera’s most controversial shows and saying nasty things about Sistani a day before the polls opened did plenty to bolster the impression that Shias are under attack and need to close ranks behind their Grand Ayatollah and his blessed list, the UIA. Al-Rubaiee is a regular commentator on Aljazeera, and even has a personal website, while his political affiliation belongs to a pro-insurgency group called the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance. The head of the IPA, Abdel-Jabbar Al-Kubaisi, was arrested by American forces in Iraq last year.

Al-Rubaiee: History threw a curveball...and broke a window. Maybe Bush should have bombed Aljazeera afterall...?

Al-Rubaiee’s outburst allowed Muhammad Ridha Sistani and Iranian intelligence to orchestrate massive demonstrations across Baghdad and southern Iraq that came out denouncing Aljazeera, supporting the UIA and burning and tearing down all rival election posters and related paraphernalia. This was the clearest and most timely opportunity afforded to the Sistani camp to strongly suggest to their flock the virtues of voting for the UIA.

4-The Iranians Show Their Hand: And just in case Sistani and the threat of ethnic cleansing don’t do the trick, Iranian intelligence came out swinging to systematize the electoral victory of their acolytes in the UIA by stuffing ballots, intimidating rivals and conducting other massive violations of electoral law. The Iranians showed how weak the institutions of the Iraqi state really are; the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq was feckless in the face of flagrant abuses such as showcasing Sistani’s picture of ‘555’ posters and the use of the police and state entities in putting-up/tearing-down candidates’ propaganda. Farid Ayar, the commission’s chairman, keeps telling foreign journalists that he can’t wait until this is all over “so that I can go back to my garden in London.” Ayar is clearly not going to hassle the gun-totting fundamentalist militias, especially if the Americans and the Brits seems unconcerned with what is happening right under their very noses.

5-Rumors: The rumor that spread around Baghdad on the eve of the election about the city's water supply being poisoned was quickly spun as a Sunni attempt to embarrass the 'Shia' government. Shias were reminded once again that they are under attack and do not have the privilege of political choices in these dire circumstances: they must coalesce around their sectarian identity as embodied by the UIA list.

The Iranians are attempting to turn Iraq into a sister Islamic Republic. They have recently shifted their policy in this regard from one by which they sought to strike a far-reaching deal with the Americans on a host of issues, including Iraq. But with the oil windfall so cushy and plentiful, the Iranians feel adventurous: what do they lose if Iraq is cut up into three pieces and its Shia segment is turned into a satellite state? Of course, the UIA’s election victory does mean that Iraqis are ready for a Shari’ah-based ‘Vilayet-el-Faqih’ spin-off, but that gets lost in the translation over in Tehran. This Iranian attempt will only further infuse an explosive situation with more instability.