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Iyad Allawi

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Iraqi Election

3 March 2010

Iraqi Election

By Gwynne Dyer

There are some bombs going off, but apart from that the election in Iraq on 7 March is a model of its kind. There are more than 6,000 candidates for the 352 seats in parliament, and the country is flooded with foreign observers who will monitor the process. Unlike last time, no major group is boycotting the election – and nobody knows who is going to win it.

Iraq has come a long way since the Sunni-Shia civil war of 2005-07, when 3,000 murdered people were being found in Baghdad each month. True, the most violent elements could just be waiting until all the Americans leave next year to start the fighting again, but it’s unlikely that they would let this election unfold smoothly if they had the power to disrupt it. And the more credible the election, the greater the legitimacy of the resulting government.

It could be literally a new government, in the sense that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would no longer be running it. Maliki’s personal popularity among more “nationalist” Shias (i.e. less sectarian ones) is undiminished, and his “State of Law” alliance leads in the opinion polls, with a predicted 30 percent of the seats in the new parliament. But 30 percent is not a majority.

To form a new government, Maliki’s party will need the support of either the secular nationalists of former prime minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement, now at 22 percent in the polls, or of the conservative Shia religious party, the Iraqi National Alliance, which has 17 percent. They have both said that they will not accept Maliki as prime minister in any coalition government they join, and they may actually mean it.

Maliki would doubtless prefer to recreate the existing coalition with the Kurdish parties, but that arithmetic probably doesn’t work any more. Kurds are 20 percent of Iraq’s population, and when they all voted for the two traditional Kurdish parties (which cooperated at the national level), they were the king-makers of Iraqi politics. The recent rise of the reforming Goran (Change) party, however desirable in itself, destroys that Kurdish unity.

But how nice it is to make such boring, routine calculations about the outcome of an Iraqi election! It’s almost as if the place had become a normal country again, and a democratic one at that. Iraqis certainly deserve such a happy ending after all the horrors they have been through. Are they are really going to get one?

Al-Qaeda, which gained a foothold among the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003, retains the ability to commit atrocities like the suicide bombings that killed 32 people in Baquba on Wednesday, but it is now only a marginal force among the Sunnis. The question is really whether the rest of the community has accepted its minority status and decided to make the best of it.

The alienation of the Sunnis is very great. They dominated Iraqi politics for centuries, and ten years ago most did not even realise that the Shias outnumbered them three-to-one. The US invasion drove them from power, they bore the brunt of the fight against the US occupation, and then they were dragged into a war against the Shias by the al-Qaeda fanatics.

In the course of that war most mixed neighbourhoods in Baghdad were “cleansed” of their Sunni population, and the city is now overwhelmingly Shia. A very large proportion of the two million Iraqi refugees abroad and the two million internally displaced people are Sunnis. Even in this election, the Shia-dominated “de-Baathification” committee disqualified a number of prominent Sunni candidates from running.

Yet most Sunnis will be voting this time, rather than boycotting the election as they did in 2005. In retrospect the Sunni community sees that as a grave error, as they had almost no influence on central government policy between then and now. They are now willing at least to try to live within the new reality of minority status in a country where religion plays a far larger role than previously.

The threat of an Arab-Kurdish civil war over the disputed city of Kirkuk is also in decline, despite the importance to the Kurds of its surrounding oil-fields. The new Goran party takes a more conciliatory approach to the Arabic-speaking minority in that city, most of whom were settled there decades ago as part of Saddam Hussein’s Arabisation programme. It does not control the Kurdistan Regional Government, but it is certainly a moderating influence.

It’s a bit early to see Iraq as a kind of Middle Eastern Belgium, with as many bitter internal divisions as that deeply divided country but also its enduring commitment to democracy. (One parallel, however, is a given: it will probably take as incredibly long to form a coalition government after this election as it does in Belgium.)

The wounds in Iraq are very fresh, and its democracy is still new and fragile. But after the decades of oppression, the hundreds of thousands killed since 2003, the millions more turned into refugees, and the steep fall in the status of women, it would be nice if Iraq had something positive to show for its long ordeal. We’ll know by 2020.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 11. (“Maliki…unity”; and “The threat…influence”)

Allawi’s Dilemma

27 June 2004

Allawi’s Dilemma

By Gwynne Dyer

The last thing Iyad Allawi needs right now is a photo-op of President George W. Bush congratulating him on becoming prime minister of the ‘sovereign’ (but US-appointed) government of Iraq. What he must do in order to survive, not only politically but personally, is to put as much space as possible between the himself and the United States, so if security concerns force Mr Bush’s handlers to cancel his long-scheduled secret trip to Baghdad on 30 June to do the ‘hand-over of power’ in person, it will be all right with Allawi.

Every Iraqi knows what happened to Nuri Said, fourteen times prime minister and London’s main instrument for controlling the British-appointed kings who ruled Iraq until 1958. When Iraqi nationalists rebelled and overthrew the puppet monarchy, they machine-gunned the young king, who was just playing the role he had been born into. But when a mob caught Nuri Said two days later, trying to escape Baghdad dressed as a woman, they tore him apart with their bare hands and left his remains in the road to be flattened by the traffic like road-kill. Iraqis do not like collaborators.

The risk of ending up the same way must haunt Iyad Allawi, for his position is quite similar. According to the latest opinion poll conducted by the Coalition Provisional Authority itself, 92 percent of Arab Iraqis now see Americans as occupiers, and only 2 percent as liberators. Allawi owes his position entirely to the United States, depends on US-controlled money for the day-to-day operations of his government, and must rely on American troops to protect him and fight the resistance. He is actually more compromised than Nuri Said was, and he knows it.

The security situation in Iraq is even worse than it was during the uprisings in April, because the rebels in Falluja and the rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr both effectively won their confrontations with American forces. Falluja is now a no-go area for US forces (though they bomb it occasionally), and it serves as safe haven and interim capital for the Sunni insurgents who have done most of the fighting against the occupation so far.

The young extremist Moqtada al-Sadr was neither killed nor arrested by US forces, as the CPA spokesman kept promising. Instead, his influence among the majority Shias has grown at the expense of his more moderate elders, and Najaf and Kerbala have also effectively become no-go areas for US forces. Half of the newly recruited Iraqi police and army troops refused to fight fellow Iraqis on behalf of foreigners during the April revolts, and 10 percent actually switched sides and fought for the rebels.

The spectacular coordinated attacks of 25 June, when insurgents stormed police stations and government buildings in five cities, killing 85 and injuring 320, show how powerful the Iraqi resistance has now become. To talk of the insurgents as “terrorists” is just name-calling; terrorists do not stand and fight. Nor are they necessarily the “enemies of democracy and of the Iraqi people,” as US propaganda insists; they include many Iraqis who believe, rightly or wrongly, that neither genuine democracy nor real freedom is part of the Bush administration’s plans for Iraq.

These are the people that Allawi must convince or marginalise if he is to succeed, or indeed even to survive. That is why, last weekend, he started to emphasise the difference between “foreign terrorists” — the Islamist holy warriors who he and most Iraqis believe are responsible for the indiscriminate suicide bombings that regularly devastate Iraqi cities — and the honest Iraqi patriots who are simply fighting to drive the Americans out. He didn’t put it in exactly those words, of course, since it is the United States that pays his bills, but it was clearly the logic behind his offer of amnesty to insurgents who fit the latter category.

An amnesty is obviously the right strategy, but that doesn’t mean it will work. Many, probably most Iraqis do not see the ‘hand-over’ to Allawi’s government as a new beginning. For the multitude of cynics, it’s just the exiles who came back to Iraq on the coat-tails of the US army re-arranging their deck-chairs once again. Moreover, the insurgents have the bit between their teeth, and people are less inclined to compromise when they think they’re going to win.

Allawi himself is a particular problem: he has been a prime CIA ‘asset’ for many years, and admits to having taken money from a total of 15 foreign intelligence agencies. All in the cause of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, he insists, and it’s probably true — but it’s not the CV you would choose if your task was to persuade sceptical Iraqi nationalists that your real master is the Iraqi people, not the United States.

Allawi is trying to show that he’s not a puppet of the American occupation forces, but it’s hard to do when the truth is that he’d be dead in a day without American protection. His press conferences are held in the heart of the Green Zone, the headquarters of the US civil administration in Iraq, and you have to pass through four checkpoints manned by American soldiers to get to them. There is not a single Iraqi soldier in sight.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 9. (“An amnesty…States”)

NOTE: IT’S NOT CLEAR YET WHETHER BUSH WILL GO TO BAGHDAD OR NOT. IF USING THIS ARTICLE AFTER 30 JUNE, MODIFY THE FIRST PARA AS FOLLOWS:

IF HE WENT:

The last thing Iyad Allawi needed right now was a photo-op of President George W. Bush congratulating him on becoming prime minister of the ‘sovereign’ (but US-appointed) government of Iraq. What he must do in order to survive, not only politically but personally, is to put as much space as possible between the himself and the United States, so if security concerns had forced Mr Bush’s handlers to cancel his long-scheduled secret trip to Baghdad on 30 June to do the ‘hand-over of power’ in person, it would have been all right with Allawi.

IF HE DIDN’T GO:

The last thing Iyad Allawi needed right now was a photo-op of President George W. Bush congratulating him on becoming prime minister of the ‘sovereign’ (but US-appointed) government of Iraq. What he must do in order to survive, not only politically but personally, is to put as much space as possible between the himself and the United States, so it’s just as well that security concerns force Mr Bush’s handlers to cancel his long-scheduled secret trip to Baghdad on 30 June to do the ‘hand-over of power’ in person. Allawi doesn’t mind at all.