Monday, January 30, 2006

Is there a place for democracy in the Middle East?

Is it possible for democracy to succeed here? And is the struggle to change our backward present and catch up with the modern world a losing one? Are we really ready to change ourselves and replace the old ways of violence and hatred with tolerance and dialogue for a better future? And do we deserve help from the world in our battle?.....

These questions and others are insistently looking for answers especially after seeing the results of the latest elections in more than one spot in the region; these results shown that Islamists have the advantage and it shown the humble achievements of the secular/liberals.

Through this post I’d like to summarize some of the factors that contributed to this situation as well as my expectations for the future as an ordinary middle astern citizen who belongs to the reform camp and tries to figure out what’s going on around him.

If we go back in time to the latest colonial era we’d see that the intellectual environment at that time was far more developed than at the later stages of independence and national governments, we’d see that freedom of press and expression was fairly better than what we had at later times and even religious parties we’re going through a phase of reevaluating their history and ideologies; at that time there were many religious reformists who were calling for rereading our history and were searching for dialogue channels with the western civilization. Even the Muslim Brotherhood-to which most current Islamic parties belong-we’re more ready to talk, discuss and reform than they are now and at that time, this was considered a leap on the road of reforming the religious thinking.

But the independence wave that came later mostly through military coups allowed the pan-Arab nationalists to take over and impose their point of view on the peoples; they took away freedoms of speech and though and oppressed everyone that didn’t follow their ideology. The people found themselves stuck with one leader, one party and one opinion to follow while all kinds of opposition were either eliminated or severely marginalized.

This was at least the case in Iraq for decades and the same applied to the rest of the neighborhood more or less.

In Iraq were not allowed group or meet for any reason outside the approval of the party and it was officially considered a crime for a number of people to gather and talk politics, the charge that I remember too well was that “they are grouping” and that was enough for conviction. That’s why each and every meeting required the approval of the government before it could be held.
However there was one place that the government couldn’t stop people from meeting at, that was the mosque. Although mosques were told to close their doors outside prayer hours, Friday prayers represented a chance for people to meet in hundreds or even thousands to listen to a preacher who scorned this life and promised them a place in heaven if they did as God said. At that time of dictatorship not many could enjoy a decent life, so many of us had to dream of a better life in heaven.

Liberals and seculars couldn’t preach to a crowd but clerics-through prayer times-could.

When Saddam was toppled and pan-Arabism was defeated in Iraq, there were no liberal or secular leaderships or organizations on the scene but religion was there as it was hardly interrupted by the succeeding events.

I recall that when we and other groups were forming our own parties, we would consider it a success if there were 50 of us in any of the earlier meetings. Here I’m talking about parties that were formed inside Iraq by Iraqis who remained inside and were so eager to group and express themselves.

On the other hand were religious parties; those already had their offices (the mosques) and a schedule for meetings (prayer times).
Unlike them, we had to find an office and we didn’t have holy dates and times for our meetings; clerics didn’t have to send invitation cards, hang banners or give every member a phone call as their audience was coming out of fear from God’s punishment. We were scattered trying to put ourselves together while they were highly organized.
A party that could manage to gather 500 of its supporters in a rally was considered lucky and organized while clerics had countless opportunities to order their followers to take to the streets and demonstrate for whatever cause.

We are not the minority but we are the least organized when compared to the religous parties. When people voted for the religious choice that was because religion was in front of them all the time while parties like ours were more like a new face in the neighborhood, interesting but not convincing.

That wasn’t the only factor that influenced the Iraqi elections; there are other factors that are just as important. Lack of security and the feeling of being targeted had led many people to entrench behind their sects. killings or marginalization were guided by the sectarian/ethnic identity to a great extent and this applies to all parties. And that’s why I believe that not all those who gave their votes to the Islamists-whether Sunni or Shia-were really religious people; I know many who voted for 555 or 618 but they do not practice Islam!
Such people voted religious because it gives them a feeling of security; a Shia fears a Sunni interior minister while a Sunni fears a Shia interior minister…it is a lack of trust escalated by the criminal acts that choose targets by sect.

It is difficult to convince the simple segment of the population that democracy will not allow dictators to appear again and that it guarantees pluralism. We simply haven’t absorbed these concepts and it seems rather impossible for our people to trust democracy from the first trial.
Another factor that affected our choices is that part of the middle eastern personality that prefers confrontation, not for the sake of confrontation itself but because of that belief that confronting the present reality can make a change.

Our surrounding environment was rarely nice to us and that’s why we-as parties as well as individuals-used to seek confrontational solutions perhaps they could change our lives for the better; we didn’t have a normal economic, political or social life to worry about and protect so we always thought that confrontation might lead to a change, we didn’t believe that such attitude would necessarily lead to a change for the better.

There’s a saying that we used to say often before the war when we just awaiting the operations to begin; “lo hara lo wara” which roughly means “victory or defeat, let’s just go for it!” which generally means that we are ready to take either outcome because both are better than standing still and dying slowly.
This is one of the factors that push people to vote for a particular faction without being convinced enough or even knowing the platform they’d be supporting.
The tone of confrontation and radical solutions had always been there although the heroes of this strategy brought nothing upon us but disappointment.

This is clearly visible in Iraq and to a similar extent in the Palestinian case.

Some said that it was too early to push the region to do elections because elections would bring fundamentalists…but if we don’t start now, then when?!
The wheel of change has to take its course and delaying it in my opinion won’t do us any good.
What happened was a natural outcome of our war with ourselves; we have to learn from this and develop the way we think and interact with the variables and we will certainly figure out what our mistakes were. This takes time but democracy is still the one and only solution and we need to go through all its stages, even if we make wrong choices, what matters is that these would be our choices, not someone else’s.

When I expressed my disappointment with our election results it wasn’t because I don’t find democracy a good thing but rather because I felt sorry for the sacrifices we’ll have to offer on our way towards the right choice and because I am worried about the newborn democracy from being stolen or buried by the fundamentalists. This is justified fear but I think it’s going to be very difficult for the fundamentalists to perform a coup on democracy as long as the free world stands by our side until we pass the critical phase.

I think the coming four years-with all the intellectual freedom and technological facilities that cannot be contained by the ruler-will allow the liberal and secular powers to grow stronger and become more influential.

Victory may look far away but defeat I can’t see at all and if some consider our sacrifices a defeat, I consider them a price that has to be paid.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Iraqi tribes in Anbar arrest 270 Arab and foreign al-Qaeda members!

From Dar al-Hayat (Arabic):

The Anbar tribes’ campaign to rid the province of Zarqawi’s terror organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq is in its 2nd day and so far, 270 Arab and foreign intruders have been arrested.
Usama Jad’aan, the leader of Karabila tribes in Qaim told al-Hayat that “the operation will continue to eliminate terror elements according to a quality plan” and added “270 Arab and foreign intruders have been arrested, in addition to some Iraqis who were providing them shelter”.

Sheikh Jad’aan added “the operation is conducted in coordination between the tribes and the minister of defense Sa’doun al-Dulaimi and since we arrested hundreds of terrorists, I don’t expect the operation to take a lot of time”.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

America's patience is running out, the UIA rejects pressures.

Today al-Hurra TV reported that the presidency council (Talabani, and his deputies Ghazi al-Yawir and AbdulMahdi-met in Baghdad to discuss the results of the elections and the necessity to form a government that reflects national unity. The meeting also discussed the first session of the new parliament that is planned to take place two weeks after the election authorities finish studying the objections and certifies the final results.

Although the final results were announced a week ago, there are still no serious talks about the formation of the government as apparently the various blocs need some time to fix their internal situation to be ready for such talks which everyone here expects to be tough and lengthy. So far, individual statements and not meetings are the main way of dialogue, pulse-checking and measuring reactions among the different blocs.

Anyway, there has been a meeting between a delegation of the UIA and members of the Accord Front. In this meeting, the Sunni representatives again stressed on their rejection for applying federalism on any region other than Kurdistan and they suggested an alternate project that includes leaving deciding the shape of federalism to the next parliament in 2009 since the Sunni politicians say they think that the current situation is inappropriate for raising this issue.

On the other hand, Salih al-Mutlaq said that Masoud Barzani, the president of Kurdistan will be in Baghdad soon to begin the real negotiations.

Al-Mutlaq has also revealed that there are preliminary talks between his bloc, the Accord Front, the Iraqi list and the Kurdish alliance for the purpose of forming one unified bloc that can become the largest bloc in the parliament. Al-Mutlaq described the talks as “present but haven’t matured yet and if succeed, will give rise to a new bloc than can form the government on its own”.

And in a step for the Iraqi list, Ayad Allawi visited Kurdistan and presumably had meetings with Kurdish leaders but there is detailed news on this visit.

This statement of al-Mutlaq comes in harmony with Allawi’s visit to Kurdistan and it seems that those blocs are trying to put pressure on the UIA through such statements maybe to tell the UIA that they must lower their demands.
This comes at the same time that Khalil Zad warned the winning blocs from failure in forming a national unity government and threatened that America will cut back her support to the government if formed on sectarian basis (I believe the WAPO has a story on this subect but I couldn't find the link).

Now it looks like the biggest winner in the elections is coming under severe pressures that wipe out the joy of winning and turn it into fear from losing support and being marginalized while it is already suffering from internal conflicts especially regarding the dispute over choosing a PM from the 4 current candidates who belong to different factions within the UIA.
This indicates the seriousness of the UIA’s situation and it shows that the apparent harmony doesn’t reflect the reality of the inside situation. Nadeem al-Jabiri, head of the Fadheela Party and who’s seeking to become the new PM said that his chances are getting better in winning the support of the UIA and refrained from giving further details. Al-Jabiri sounded confident despite the fact that other parties in the UIA are more inclined to choosing Jafari or AbdulMahdi.

But al-Jabiri did say that some parties in the UIA broke the deal with his party by giving them only one seat instead of 5 seats from the 19 compensatory seats that were allocated to the UIA and pointed out that most of those seats were given to the SCIRI and Badr. Al-Jabiri considered that as an unfriendly move and that he declared his objections and asked al-Hakeem to interfere to stop the discrimination practiced against al-Fadheela.
The first reaction from the UIA to Zad’s warning came from Jawad al-Maliki who rejected the “American pressure” and said that the UIA is ready to hold talks with any other party if that was in the interest of the nation but he stressed that they refuse all external pressures.

Meanwhile, the Accord Front said they will decide the shape of their role in the government according to the will of the voters who gave them their trust and in this regard the Front held an extended conference for its members, supporters and tribal affiliates and distributed a questionnaire to the participants asking for their opinion and suggestions on the role the Front should assume in the next stage.

The UN and Arab League have their role in the process too; yesterday the UN’s envoy to Iraq Ashraf Kadi said that some Iraqi political leaders have asked the UN to have a voice in the negotiations but Kadi explained that the role of the UN will be limited to providing help when requested but shall not interfere in the formation of the government.
The Arab League on its part has answered requests from some Iraqi political powers and agreed to postpone the reconciliation conference until after the new government is in place.

Few politicians are optimistic and think-or try to look so-that a government can be formed within a month; president Talabani is one of those politicians but I don’t agree with this and actually I expect the process to take at least few months that era going to be tough for sure, of course that’s if our politicians keep behaving the way they are doing right now.

And I do hope that those leaders would for once have some wisdom in reading the future and I hope that miscalculations and misunderstandings stop being a permanent trait of Iraqi politicians.

I do not want the coming four years to be wasted in waiting for another chance and I want our parliament to be a parliament of work and constructive discussions not one of sterile rhetoric and disputes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but sometimes I think that a well done cartoon is worth much more than that.
Today I’ve chosen 3 smart cartoons done by the today’s #1 cartoonist in Iraq, Khudair al-Himyari. In these 3 pictures published on New Sabah he sums up a great deal of Iraq’s present time and the problems that Iraqis are facing.
In the first one he mocks the Iraqi way of “dialogue”, the way that had been inherited from decades of violence, oppression and lack of trust:

There’s no difference between us but it’s only that like I listened to his point of view, I would like him to listen to mine!

The second one mocks Iraqi politicians and their hunger for power and control.

Despite all the disputes, all points of view are still matching!!

The third one makes fun of the generous promises of the government that never materialize:

The words on the two pumps read:
The wo’ood “promises” station (which as you can see has a hose pumping at full power) and…..The woqood “fuel” station (which is hardly dripping).
The guy on the left tells the one on the right to “come fill from here!”

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Women are the biggest far.

The talks among the winning-and losing-political parties in Iraq have slowed down quite a bit, actually the whole process is somewhat taking a pause since the announcement of the final results which by the way seem to be objection-proof; Aadil al-Lami from the election commission appeared on TV today and said that all 20+ objections that came form different blocs since Thursday have been rejected by the interim judicial electoral committee that has replaced the election commission since the latter has completed its mission…or has it?

Speaking of objections, there were 3 main points that winning blocs used to support their objections; the UIA and the Kurdistan Alliance said that the election commission gave seats to other blocs that haven’t reached the “threshold” that qualifies them to get a seat, say that the UIA for instance got 4 seats in a certain province after winning 160,000 votes while a smaller bloc won a single seat after winning less than 30,000 votes.
The Iraqi list based their objections on another point, that is their claims that violence practiced by supporters of other blocs didn’t give them a chance to campaign freely and they also pointed out that the Iraqi list lost 13 of its offices’ staff and election members during the weeks that preceded the election.

The Accord Front and Dialogue Front objected to the way seats had been distributed among provinces by the election commission before the elections and they say that provinces with Sunni majority were given fewer seats than they actually deserve considering that the election law approved by the National Assembly states that there should be one representative for each 100,000 citizen.
Akba provided some important numbers some time ago and I’m using them to give an example:

Salahiddin: population 1.1+ million…seats allocated 8
Anbar: population 1.3 + million…seats allocated 9
Mosul: population 2.5 + million…seats allocated 19
Total population ~ 5 million…total seats allocated = 36
Duhok: population 0.4 + million…seats allocated 7
Erbil: population 1.3 + million…seats allocated 13
Sulaymania: population 1.7 + million…seats allocated 15
Total population ~ 3.5 million…total seats allocated = 35

Anyway, there a couple of points that I’d like to talk about in brief. First there is the women quota in the parliament which has to be at least 25% of the 275 seats. Unfortunately, this quota is not for certain yet.
During the preparation to the elections, political parties were told that they must have a women every second candidate on their lists to ensure that women get their 25% share and the parties did that but the problem is that the results mathematically denied women this share, especially in provinces with less seats and in provinces where seats were shared by more than 2 lists.
One excellent example is Kirkuk, where the seat allocation gave the Kurdistan Alliance 5 seats while 4 other lists shared the remaining 4 seats.

You can see then that only one list had more than three winning candidates, which means there will be 1 woman representative out of 9 from Kirkuk.

Not all other provinces had the same female/male ratio but I couldn’t find a single province where women got their 25%, maybe Baghdad is the only exception.
But overall, women lost 13 of their seats to male candidates and won only 56 out of their constitutional right that grants them 69 seats.

The election commission has asked the winning blocs to allocate the compensatory seats they have won to women from their lists of candidates in order to compensate the shortage. Will this solve the problem? I hope but I’m not certain.

The other disturbing point is related to even a more critical issue, that is the ability (and will) of the new parliament to amend the constitution.
You may know that it had been agreed upon to form a committee to study proposals for amendments concerning several articles in the constitution within few months after the parliament is seated and that agreement was what encouraged many of the Sunni and secular voters to vote “yes’ for the draft constitution.
This agreement is now in danger, a couple of days ago I read on al-Sabah that the UIA wants the committee that will study proposed amendments to be formed according to the way seats have been distributed in the parliament.
If this happens, amendments will have to pass through 2 firewalls; these are the committee and the parliament before they are put before the voters for a referendum, thus practically preventing any amendment that doesn’t appeal to the UIA from passing.
In my opinion this is totally unfair, this committee has to be independent, yes, the parliament has to be there to approve or disapprove suggested amendments but why? Why put another block to stop ideas from even being discussed in the parliament? This I don’t understand neither will I accept.

Going back to the first topic of negotiations to form the government, it is believed that this pause is not lasting long. Jalal Talabani said this morning that he’s on his way from Sulaymania to Baghdad for a new round of talks.
Meanwhile, from the same report, Adnan al-Pachachi, a top figure of the Iraqi list announced that representatives from the Iraqi list, Accord and Dialogue fronts have officially signed an agreement in Amman/Jordan to enter negotiations with other blocs as one unified bloc.

More on this tomorrow.

Oh, and by the way, here's an interesting alternative scenario from Talisman Gate.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Being a good neighbor.

The leader of Mujahideen, defender of faith, future Ayatollah and higher leader of the Mehdi Army (may God keep him safe) Muqtada al-Sadr announced from Tehran during his latest visit to Iran that al-Mehdi Army will defend any neighboring or Muslim nation that comes under foreign invasion.
The statement was made during a meeting with Ali Larijani, Iran’s national security advisor who is also in charge of Iran’s nuclear program.

Poor Jacques Chirac, he didn’t put in his calculations that Mehdi Army would stand by Iran’s side! Now Mr. Chirac’s nukes which he spoke smugly about will be totally useless before the holy tide and heaven’s forces.

Poor Europe and poor America! For they didn’t put in their consideration when they challenged Iran that the army of the light will be defending the Islamic republic…

I feel sorry for this world when it tries to warn terrorists while terrorists fear no threats. On the contrary, they want to be threatened and warned as it feeds their propaganda machine and they will use such threats to say “We are on the right side and the proof is that infidels fear us and threatening us”.

I can hear turbans say “kill a million of us and we will kill a thousand of you and do not forget, our criteria for measuring triumph differ from yours; you live in the filthy present while we live in the glorious past”.

Poor Iraq, the new parliament will have 30 of the soldiers of the Mujahid leader, while those who carry PhDs like Kubba, Chalabi, Dabbagh or, or, or….got nothing…

I can’t blame anyone for this because this is what a great percentage of Iraqis chose and I won’t blame those Iraqis for their choice since for decades, they didn’t enjoy a healthy environment that allows objective thinking.

Like on Iraqi journalist said; the defeat of the seculars is a great loss for those who won the elections.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Iraq needs months to form the new government, Iraqi militants turn against al-Qaeda.

Reactions to the results announced yesterday varied from one party to another but in general it seems that the results were welcomed outside Iraq more than inside as politicians here re still have the task of looking for a way to form a government that convinces all concerned parties.

The positive thing about those reactions is that objections weren’t as harsh as they were when the preliminary results surfaced. Now, those with objections confirmed that they want to push the political process forward; on al-Hurra, a spokesman of Maram said today that "although we have reservations on the results, we intend to go on with the political process" and this will most likely be enough to cast away the ghost of a bloody conflict we were afraid of.

All are convinced now that solutions lie within politics and negotiations but what concerns us now is that some parties will perhaps keep a high ceiling for their demands. It is true that no single bloc can form a government without forming a coalition with other bloc(s) but the number of seats each bloc got will remain the factor that decides the form of and terms of cooperation despite the calls for forming a government of national unity that overlooks election results and focuses more on dealing with the current challenges and dangers.

Today the supreme judicial board decided to extend the term of the interim national Assembly and interim government for another 3 months after a request submitted by the presidency council, apparently to avoid facing constitutional vacuum.
This decision suggests that forming the government is expected to take quite a lot of time.

The UIA looks excited and seems to be rushing things more than other blocs; yesterday they said they’ve formed to committees to direct talks with the two other major blocs; the Kurdish and the Sunni. The UIA hope they can form the government before the end of February when the reconciliation conference will be due, maybe to avoid external influence from Arab countries-that back the Sunni parties and Allawi-on the process. However, I think the UIA will not make it and will have to come to the conference before the government is in place.

The UIA is discussing many internal issues now, among which is the issue of nominating the PM as well as the need to reorganize their lines after facing objection on the policy of the UIA from the Fadheela and the Sadrists who said that it’s not the right time now to talk about federalism.

I expect the UIA to focus on renewing their coalition with the Kurdish parties but I doubt it will be as easy as it was last year for the changes that erupted on the Kurdish end, mainly the recent union of the two Kurdish administrations.

The UIA has put a condition-though they refuse to call it so- on the participation of the Sunni, that is “we want to form the government with the good elements in their bloc”. I believe this was a wrong choice of words because the Sunni too do not think that all UIA members are “good” and I think both parties should look at each other as a whole since all members in each individual bloc have come together to enter the election as one body after agreeing on a unified policy. This selectivity on the UIA’s part is in my opinion illogical and impractical.

Meanwhile, Mowaffac al-Rubai’i warned today from the allegedly continuous negotiations between the Americans and Iraqi militants and he strongly condemned these negotiations which he described as a threat to national security.

While the American embassy today resumed its talks with the Sunni leading politicians, 6 Iraqi militant groups announced that they will unite their forces and join the rest of resident of Anbar and Salahiddin in fighting al-Qeda. The new militant groups included the Islamic army, the Anbar martyr’s brigades and the 1920 revolution brigades.
This change sounds positive and encouraging. Although I always preferred that the government deals with such issues instead of militias because if those militias succeed in their new mission, they will have demands and they will gain leverage in later bargains when they will be asked to drop their arms (that’s if they have a plan to do so in the future).

However, the facts on the ground are not the same and the theory of excluding militias can be overlooked for a while because the government already has no enough power in the areas in question while those militias know their targets and they can reach those targets; they know the battlefield very well and they have the sufficient intelligence for this kind of battle.
Although those militant groups have a bad history of violence and terrorizing the population, the positive new change s that they are expected to coordinate their work with city councils which gives a feeling that they are not very far away from the government’s sight and that they meet with the government on the need for fighting foreign terrorists. But, this service will not be for free and the battle is going to be fierce as al-Qaeda realizes that the new enemy is very well informed this time.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Final Results!

Here are the results as announced by Safwat Rasheed of the board of the election committee in a press conference in Baghdad:

UIA ~ 5021000….109 seatsfrom the province +19 compensatory=128

Accord Front :~1840000 votes…37 from the province +7 compensatory=44

Dialogue Front (al-Mutlaq) : ~499000 votes… 9 seats from the province+2 compensatory=11

Iraqi List (Allawi) :~977000 votes….21seats from the provinces+4 compensatory=25

Kurdish Alliance : ~2642000 votes…43 seats from the rpovinces+10 compensatory=53

Islamic Union of Kurdistan : ~157000 votes 4 seats from the provinces+1 compensatory=5

Risalyoon: ~145000 votes 1 from the provinces +1 compensatory =2

Musalaha wal Tahreer (Misha’an al-Juboori) : ~129000 ...votes 3 seats from the provinces.

Rafidain (Assyrian): ~ 47000 votes…. 0 seats from the provinces+1 compensatory=1 seat.

Turkman Front: ~ 87000 votes….1 seat

Mithal al-Alusi : ~32000 votes…1 seat from the provinces

Yazidi Movement: ~ 21000 votes…1 seat (compensatory)

TOTAL 275 Seats.


Ironically, the first objection to the results came from the UIA!

Al-Arabiya TV reported that Ammar al-Hakeem (AbdulAziz’s son) and Hussein al-Shahristani announced that the UIA objects to the way seats were distributed among provinces and they think that this “unfair distribution has cut down the UIA’s share by 10 seats”.
Al-Hakeem and al-Shahristani reportedly said that they’ll be writing a memo with their objections to the electoral authorities.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The international team's report concurs with the election committee's report.

The interior ministry announced a new wide security plan for Baghdad and several other regions that are considered “hot”.
The plan, run in coordination with the defense ministry began yesterday as part of the precautions being taken to avoid and control anticipated surge in violence after the announcement of the investigation team’s report and the final election results.
The plan was evident on the streets with more checkpoints and roadblocks all over Baghdad, Yesterday I wasn’t even able to get to my clinic because the street was blocked and I spent two hours stuck in a traffic jam before I could find a U turn and go back to home.
This security plan has also included sealing entire towns like Fallujah which will have all its entrances and exits closed for three days started yesterday.
Unfortunately, this plan couldn’t stop the terrorists from performing two bloody suicide attacks in Baghdad.

The investigation team released their report today. I couldn’t find the full version or any significant amount of details but local media here reported that the report indicated that violations and fraud were insignificant and couldn’t affect the results of the elections in a major way.
But, this morning, al-Sabah ran a story that quotes from a source close to the investigation team. The story mentions that this anonymous source said that the investigation team found that 7 seats will have to be taken away from certain lists because fraud was detected. The three lists are the UIA, Accord Front and the Dialogue Front led by al-Mutlaq and according to the same report, fraud incidents in questions took place in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, Diyala and Anbar.

Although the international team’s report played down allegations of massive fraud voiced by Sunni parties and former PM Allawi’s list, I expect those parties to be relatively satisfied with what the report has shown since their main goal recently was to prove that fraud has taken place regardless of the extent and then they can use this fact to support their rejection for the idea of the UIA of forming a national unity government that takes election results into consideration. What the Sunni and Allawi want is to form a national unity government based on population percentages.

On yesterday, Jalal Talabani said that negotiations among political parties have stopped and won’t be resumed until the election commission uncovers the final results. The final results are expected to be revealed tomorrow and then there will be a two-day period to receive objections. Those objections will be reviewed by a transitional electoral committee and if the objections found invalid, results shall be approved within two days but if objections found valid, this committee will have ten days to study those objections and announced the approved results.

So, we are expecting to see the results tomorrow and mosques will bring the first reaction of corresponding blocs to today’s report while reactions from politicians will start coming later tomorrow or the day after and I hope they react in a reasonable way and avoid overreactions.

Actually one of our biggest problems is the lack of trust between the different parties and more dangerous is the little trust the parties have in democracy.
This trust crisis is what causes those irrational reactions.
The Shia politicians, although they are the biggest winners in the elections are still behaving like victims and they worry about whether this or that Sunni candidate was part of the Ba’ath party. And the same applies to the Sunni who are afraid of Shia domination despite the fact that their (the Sunni) parties will control nearly 30% of the parliament and there’s no chance they can be marginalized again.
Not only that, both sides say they’re being conspired upon by the others. This lack of trust will keep being a problem for Iraq…I’m not expecting politicians to trust each other but I hope they mature to trust democracy.

Iraqis-whether politicians or ordinary citizens-are yet to fully understand democracy but to be fair, one should not put all the blame on them; democracy takes time…democracy is a process, not an event.

The new ITM banner!

I realize this has taken a little more time than it should have and this was mainly because finding the right code to insert the new banner in the best way wasn’t an easy task.
But anyway, here it is, finally!

As you can see now, banner #1 by Christine is the official winner after getting more votes than any of the rest.
I truly like all the designs and any one of them would look good on the blog but this is the decision of your votes and I’m happy with it.
We have also chosen #4 by Neoknight to be the logo for ITM.
Many thanks to all those who spent time creating those beautiful designs and to all of you who voted.
And of course congratulations to Christine and Neoknight on winning the contest.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Talabani insists on giving the Sunni their share...Fadheela Party may leave the UIA.

In what looks like a reaction to the conditions put by al-Hakeem for the Sunni Arabs to fulfill before joining the government, president Talabani said that “the Sunni must be part of the government under any circumstances but on one condition; that the program is agreed upon by everyone…nothing justifies a government of two parties except the need to form an emergency government” Dar al-Hayat wrote. And when asked about who the Kurds would favor to be the new PM, Talabani said “Abdul Mahdi is closer to occupying this position”.

Moreover, the UIA is suffering from internal conflicts over the nomination of the new PM. While top powers in the UIA favor Jafari and Abdul Mahdi, al-Fadheela Party-with 15 seats in the parliament-still insists on nominating its head Dr. Nadeem al-Jabiri and put the issue for voting inside the bloc.
A news report broadcast on Radio Sawa this morning mentioned that al-Fadheela Party has will consider leaving the UIA and allying with the Accord Front and Allawi if the SCIRI and Da’wa ignored the party’s demands.

The dispute over election results remains alive, after the election commission released its report on alleged violations and fraud; Mowaffaq al-Rubai’i said in an interview on al-Iraqiya TV that he expects the report of the international investigation team to reveal similar findings to those shown by the election commission’s report, i.e. limited violations that won’t alter the final results.

This statement didn’t appeal to Salih al-Mutlaq who criticized al-Rubai’i for speaking on behalf of the investigation team and said that “such a statement raise doubts about the credibility and integrity of this team’s work”.
Maybe al-Rubai’i said that out of self-confidence but either way it wasn’t smart to make public remarks about a report that hasn’t been announced yet.

Al-Mutlaq-who spoke to al-Arabiya-said that “the international community had let us down several times and it is time to correct this position and stand on our side”.
Still in the election results, the election commission’s report that was announced yesterday mentioned that ballots of 227 stations from several provinces will be ignored including 67 stations from Baghdad. Those stations collectively contain approximately 100,000 votes, i.e. 2-3 seats which represent 1% of the parliament seats.
The thing that caught my attention was the report of the Ain Network, the independent organization that monitored the votes with some 11,000 local observers. The report of this network-which is considered the largest single entity involved in monitoring the elections-came immediately after the commission released its report and this Ain report simple parroted what the commission said!
This report came lacking all aspects of professional work, numbers or percentages and only included general statements like “there were some minor violations but nothing big enough to significantly affect the results”.

But…what a friend of mine who worked for them during the election in Nasiriya had something different to say. The man who was a chief observer responsible for monitoring 16 voting centers with a total of over 12,000 registered voters told me just two days ago that fraud did take place in a large scale and I quote:

We had little over 12,000 registered voters in our area or responsibility and after ballots were closed, the 16 observers working in those 16 centers began sending me their reports which included observations of 39 violations of various types. First was the turnout, the overall number of actual voters was 7,472 but later the commissions’ local officials said that 11,489 voters cast their ballots. Then came the unbelievable thing, out of those 11,489 votes, 11,130 went to the UIA!!
Fraud in its traditional ways wasn’t significant, that’s true but my observers told me that election workers in several centers were putting extra ticks on ballot papers that were to go to parties other than the UIA. This way those papers would be discarded from the count, for example, 47 papers out of 330 that were going to the Iraqi list were discarded because they carried two ticks in two different positions.
While in places were turnout was really low, some election workers were filling ballot papers by themselves for the benefit of the UIA and marking absent voters as actual voters, for example there was a center in a remote area in the suburbs with 600 registered voters, only 180 voters showed up but the officially announced turnout was 91%.

Using simple math, one can easily find that more than 30% of the results in those centers were forged and assuming that fraud even half this extent took place in other place in the south, we can suspect that 15% of the 81 seats from the south were wrongfully allocated.
Not only that, what makes this kind of fraud even more difficult to detect is that all papers were authentic...only the ticks were not.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Forming a new governmenmt; the long hard labor...

The international investigation team that came to Iraq to check on election results announced that they are delaying the announcement of their report until Thursday.
The interesting thing about this is that the team said they’d disclose their report after the team members leave Iraq! This suggests that the team wants to avoid upsetting any particular Iraqi party while they are still here.

Parties that opposed the preliminary results such as Maram have high hopes on this report; not because they think it can grant them more seats in the parliament as everyone knows now that final results won’t be much different from the preliminary ones but rather because those parties want something that officially proves fraud has taken place regardless of the size of this fraud. It’s just the mere idea that any proven fraud will give Maram and the like more bargaining power to face the UIA with and they think that then, the UIA will not be able to force its point of view regarding the formation of the government and thus will have to reach a compromise with the others and give them a better share.

As serious negotiations between the rival parties stopped, another type of meetings appeared. Those parties are taking place between two parties at a time and are considered to be “chatting” as described by Hassan al-Bazzaz from the Accord Front who told al-Mada paper that these meetings were requested by officials from the American embassy that is making efforts now to approximate the points of view of the major blocs and encouraging them to talk to each other more frequently. Al-Bazzaz pointed out that in the beginning there had been talks between the Accord Front and the embassy in the effort to agree on a way to come out with an “accordance government”.

In the same report, a member of the Front who preferred to remain anonymous said that “the front respects the choice of the people but the UIA has to be reasonable in their demands and must not try to get all the top government posts to themselves…we were asked to choose between the defense and interior ministries and we chose the interior considering these hard times”.
The same member said he expects the formation of the government to be like a “hard labor” and will take a long time until all politicians find out that there’s no other choice but accordance.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda is getting more isolated in Iraq and their announcement today of uniting the lines of 6 organizations reflects the critical position al-Qaeda is sitting in right now especially after residents and tribes of Anbar and Salahiddin are uniting against foreign terrorists.
In this regard, al-Sabah reported today that Samarra is having a new city council to coordinate the process of rebuilding the city and after they had formed teams to fight foreign terrorists. Also al-Hurra TV reported that PM Jafari and US ambassador Khalil Zad visited Ramadi and pledged to allocate 75 and 400 million $ respectively to accelerate the reconstruction efforts in Anbar apparently as a reward to the people of Anbar for the positive attitude they've adopted.

I think that now it seems that the greatest danger facing Iraq is not al-Qaeda because this rejecting this organization by the Iraqi people was just a matter of time; the greatest danger right now is the possible interference of the neighbors in Iraq’s internal affairs to destabilize the country and impede the political process in the effort to escape the pressure applied by the international community on those neighbors and I think the interference this time will focus more on recruiting certain political powers in Iraq to implement the plans of those countries rather than using old allies like al-Qaeda or other terror groups.

The reason why I’m expecting this to happen is because lately we’ve been hearing Syrian and Iranian officials repeatedly saying that America wouldn’t dare escalate the situation with them as long as America is stuck in the Iraqi swarm.

It looks like the regimes in Syria and Iran have their eyes focused on the “Iraqi swarm” and forgetting the swarms forming beneath their feet…

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Dispute over federalism resurfaces and some good news from Anbar.

After a few days off from political activity, discussions between the different parties and statements from politicians were resumed yesterday with some new factors and attitudes that were matured by the previous round of talks.

The first meetings after this short pause are expected to be low-scale and will not include the heads of blocs according to Jawad al-Maliki from the Dawa Party while Rasim al-Awadi from the Iraqi list said yesterday that their list will hold direct negotiations with the other winners and he pointed out that they will focus on the platform of the new government rather than on the allocation of cabinet seats. On the other hand Ali al-Adeeb from the UIA said that negotiations will be resumed today and that the UIA will concentrate on establishing balance inside the parliament reassuring that no trend shall be marginalized and added “we have nothing against the Iraqi list but we do have reservations against some of its members”.

In the same regard, Khalaf al-Ilayan from the Accord Front stressed that the Front will not join any talks about the shape of the government before the final results are announced and he described the previous and current round of talks as “pulse checking”.
Al-Ilayan’s statement shows that the Front and the Iraqi list share a similar attitude regarding the objective of the talks “we don’t care about the cabinet as much as we care about balance among powers inside the parliament and we are ready to cooperate with whoever care for the country’s interests regardless of ethnicity”. Al-Ilayan didn’t mention sects here which can probably translate as an invitation to the Kurds to ally with them.

In my opinion, the most important development of the day is the change in the tone of the UIA that clearly began to reject the idea of a national accordance government and want to replace it with a formula that relies more on election results.
Al-Hakeem said today that they have certain terms for forming the new government; one of those terms is to replace “national accordance government” with a “partnership government” which means that the UIA now want the government to include blocs other than them and the Kurds but with election results defining the share each one gets.
Al-Hakeem warned from using the term “accordance” saying that adopting accordance will announce the death of democracy in Iraq.

Friday preachers in Shia mosques spoke in the same direction; Jalal Addin al-Sagheer in Buratha mosque warned “from any attempt by internal or external powers to manipulate the election results” while Sadr Addin al-Qubbanchi said in Najaf that they reject any government based on compromises and stressed that everyone has to respect the outcome of the elections that gives the UIA the lead and he warned from a crisis if election results get ignored or manipulated.

I think those statements are a reaction out of fear from a change in seats-allocations after investigations are complete. Actually there’s unconfirmed news in Baghdad that the international investigation team has uncovered fraud as extensive as 10 seats.
I actually heard this news from a future parliament member who rejects the current results. My source said what they care about in their bloc is to spread the word and mobilize the debate about it but “we don’t expect the election commission to commit to the results of the international investigation”.

Mazin Shu’aib from the investigation team announced that there’s a good chance they will reveal the results of their work tomorrow yet he didn’t deny a possible delay until Monday “considering that there’s still some investigation work left to do and the situation depends on how much progress we can make today”.

Abdulhussein al-Hindawi from the commission said today that they will announce the results after the investigation team finishes their work and after the commission itself announces its own account on the complaints of Maram and other parties that rejected the preliminary results. But al-Hindawi pointed out that “the commission will not be obliged to adopt the report of the international investigators given the independent nature of the commission”. It’s also worth mentioning that a “transitional electoral committee” has been formed by the supreme judicial board to look into complaints and verify the results after being submitted by the commission.

Mofeed al-Jaza’iri from the Iraqi list said that “international investigators have met with representatives of the Iraqi list, Accord Front and Dialogue Front who submitted their complaints supported by documents and evidence that prove that fraud did take place. They investigators had also spoken to NGO’s that participated in monitoring the election process”.

Another important development is the escalating dispute over the possibility of amending the constitution; al-Hakeem said that their terms include keeping certain key articles in the constitution untouched especially those governing the process of establishing federations among provinces in middle and south regions of the country.
This very point is of great importance to the Accord Front as well, Adnan al-Dulaimi stressed that “articles that threaten the unity of Iraq must be amended…there’s an article in the constitution that outlines a mechanism for introducing amendments and we will use this article to change any article that can lead to dividing Iraq” al-Dulaimi added that the alternative to creating federations is to “extend the authority of provincial councils to enhance decentralization and avoid dividing the country into smaller states”.

Sources from Maram warned from closing the door on amendments saying that “if the UIA insists on rejecting amendments, this would cripple the negotiations”. In this regard also, Ali al-Sadoon from the Dialogue Front said that they are facing difficulties in convincing the UIA to agree to making amendments. Al-Sadoon also said forming the government is unlikely before holding the national reconciliation conference “as it will be the right place for fruitful dialogue and discussion and it will help everyone override the current obstacles”.

Meanwhile, there are some good news coming from Anbar.
Al-Qaeda is apparently being chased down and confronted by Iraqis in Anbar and Samarra according to a report from al-Sabah.
Mohammed al-Ubaidi is a citizen of Anbar who took part in a battle against al-Qaeda fighters said that people were enraged by the attacks that kill civilians in Anbar and other provinces and therefore have decided to form squads from the residents to rid Anbar from the foreign terrorists.
The reports mentions that several tribes’ sheikhs had a meeting in the home of a sheikh of the Dulaim tribe where they pledged to fight al-Qaeda and throw them out of the province. There are also news that some 120 al-Qaeda members have already fled outside Iraq after a series of battles between their cells and the residents of Ramadi and other towns and suburbs of Anbar.
According to the same report, similar measures are being taken by the residents in Samarra and have succeeded in forcing foreign terrorists out of their city.

Everyone is impatiently awaiting the final results and I think those who rejected the preliminary results are even more excited about it as their strategy depends on the final seat allocations and any small difference in the results can affect the policy of such parties. Of course they realize that they can’t catch up with the UIA but any change in seat allocations can influence the balances and the negotiations.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Sunni ignore Zarqawi and support Talabani's run for office.

Two developments took most of the interest in Iraq’s political scene today. The first is the latest audio tape of Zaqrqawi in which he urged the Iraqi Sunni parties especially the Islamic Party to abandon the political process and go back to the “right path”.

The Islamic Party didn’t need much time to voice their rejection for Zarqawi’s message and his ideology that recognizes only violence as a way to reach goals.
The 2nd man in the Islamic Party Ayad al-Samarra’i stressed that the Party has no intention to abandon the political process.
Salih al-Mutlaq is another Sunni politician who apparently feels that Zarqawi was addressing him as well. Al-Mutlaq has also condemned violence again today and stressed that “ending violence is the key to stability in Iraq”.

What matters most about such immediate firm reactions to Zarqawi’s call is that they show that the gap between foreign terrorists like Zarqawi and Sunni Arabs in Iraq is growing wider by the day and perhaps the Sunni politicians’ decision to join Allawi and let him lead their alliance will contribute to pushing them to a more reasonable, moderate attitude rather than the relatively extreme attitude they adopted for a long time.

The second important development in Iraq today was the Kurdish decision to nominate Jalal Talabani for presidency after a period of hesitation.
Actually what is more interesting in this topic is the reactions of the Shia and Sunni parties to Talbani’s nomination. While the Kurds persistently want more powers for the new president “be it Talabani or someone else” according to Kurdish politician AbdulKhaliq Zangana, Shia and Sunni had their own ideas;
The UIA said again that extending the authorities of the president is unlikely; Adnan al-Bayati from the UIA explained their rejection of the idea of extended authorities for the president by saying that changes such as this one cannot be made by a political decision…”they require amending the constitution” al-Bayati said.

The largest Sunni bloc, the Accord Front is obviously pleased with nominating Talabani and is supportive of giving the president more powers, as Adnan al-Dulaimi expressed today. The Sunni and Kurds seem to be getting along better lately and yesterday’s meeting between the Accord Front and the Kurdish alliance has apparently succeeded in approximating their points of view.

Meetings between major political powers continue in Baghdad; but not much is being revealed about the discussions that take place or the outcome of those meeting. What we are hearing is a repetition of older statements in most cases while a lot more is being kept behind closed doors. However, it is believed that politicians here plan to resume their meetings soon after the Eid holiday ends and with the participation of the Iraqi list represented by Allawi.

On the other hand, the election commission again delayed announcing the results of their investigations concerning fraud charges. The results that were planned for public announcement tomorrow will remain unknown until next Saturday.
In the same regard, the international investigation team has been actively in work and they had several meetings with the major political bodies; it was reported today that the team had a couple of 2-hour long meetings with Maram and the UIA one at a time to hear what each party has to say.

Almost no day passes in Iraq without security incidents that cause bloodshed. Today there was an attack on the compound of the interior ministry in Baghdad, a place with tight security and several defense lines and that’s what makes such attacks disturbing and rise our worries; when two terrorists wearing explosive belts can pass through six checkpoints and reach the information office of the interior ministry to detonate there then there’s a huge defect. And I actually think that a great deal of this defect lies in the fact that loyalty to a certain party or trend-and not competence-is still the first parameter relied upon in choosing people to occupy certain positions.

I realize that competence alone isn’t enough but in the same way, being loyal isn’t enough either. I know that it is a difficult balance but I’m sure if people in higher offices tried some objectivity, they’ll always be able to find people that are loyal (to the country) and competent at the same time.

I’m done for now…
Happy Eid everyone!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Suuni choose Allawi as their leader, the Kurds unite their administrations.

Stage two of the current phase of the political in Iraq which we anticipated a few days ago has just begun and its beginning is marked by the emergence of a new large political bloc.

The new bloc was announced today in Baghdad after the largest three blocs of Maram-the Iraqi list, the Accord Front and al-Mutlaq’s Dialogue Front-signed an agreement to form one unified political body.
This agreement will grant the new political body a significant political weight with a total of approximately 80 seats in the parliament and with good prospects for reaching something close to 100 seats if a few other smaller lists like Mishaan al-Juboori’s list, the Islamic union of Kurdistan, Turkmen and Christians chose joining it.
Of course these numbers are not final until the election commission gives the final count and the international investigation team verifies those results and finishes studying claims of fraud.
Anyway, now the equation seems easier to read with only three variables instead of four or five!

Allawi who appeared in a press conference today after a relatively long hiatus emphasized again that talking about forming the government should take place only after the investigation is over.
Adnan al-Dulaimi and Salih al-Mutlaq were standing behind Allawi during the press conference which means that the two men have given Allawi the leadership of the new alliance.
Allawi stressed that the new bloc rejects and condemns terrorism, of course this is something not unusual from Allawi but I think that Allawi this time was speaking on behalf of al-Dulaimi and al-Mutlaq who have recently been accused so many times by the UIA of backing terrorism.
Allawi also pointed out that he recently spoke to president Talabani and that their talks were friendly and they agreed on many issues but he also said that the formation of the government wasn’t part of the discussion.

The fuel crisis is still among the Iraqis’ major daily concerns, especially after the price of gasoline reached as high as 2 $/gallon, a price that has never been reached before.
Only days after the government gave the oil minister a long forced vacation and replaced him by Ahmed Chalabi, they are asking the minister Bahr al-Iloom to come back but Bahr al-Iloom set two conditions for his return to the ministry; first is adopting a plan for gradual in crease in fuel prices and second is to distribute the excess money resulting from the increased prices to the poor families in Iraq.

Actually the second part is already part of the government’s announced plan and Bahr al-Iloom’s demand suggest that probably he was expecting the government to abandon this part concerning distributing the excess money.

The day’s other big event is something that has been awaited for quite along time, and it is an achievement of special importance for the Kurds in Iraq, today Masoud Barzani announced that the KDP and PUK have finally reached an agreement to unite the two Kurdish administrations in Erbil and Sulaymaniya. It’s worth mentioning that since after 1991, the Kurdish region was run by two separate administrations; one by the KDP in Erbil and Duhok and the other by the PUK in Sulaymaniya.

Via Ali al-Dabbagh, Sistani delivered a message to the rival parties in which he expressed support for the formation of a national unity government but with respect to the results of the elections.

Moreover, the UIA’s 3rd candidate for PM Nadeem al-Jabiri had a meeting yesterday with Ayatollah al-Yakoobi in Najaf to discuss his decision to run for office. Al-Jabiri told al-Sabah that he came out with “a positive reaction from al-Yakoobi represented by supporting his nomination”.
Reading this as well as Sistani’s message, one can see that the clergy still wants an active role in Iraq’s politics even from a far although top clerics said more than once that they would leave politics to the politicians.

Anyway, I think the next few days until the (unverified) final results are announced will be a waiting phase for most political powers.
Politicians already know that neither the election commission nor the international investigators can change much of the results; they will pretend to be awaiting announcements from those two entities, basically to use this time to organize their lines, probe the pulse of other parties and prepare for the real negotiations that are yet to come.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

After the election, frustration replaces optimism...

For two consecutive days we hear the news reports describing each day as the “bloodiest since the election”.
Yesterday and today left hundreds dead or injured in several regions of the country, and with severe fuel and electricity shortage, the atmosphere is quite tense and worrisome.

The interior and defense ministries are losing whatever trust it gained in the past with shocking recent failures in protecting lives and property. People started even making jokes of the interior minister who failed to protect his own sister.
Some local news sources reported that the captors want to trade the hostage’s life for 12 of their partners detained by the interior ministry at an earlier time.

The new army has also failed the expectations after they failed to protect the fuel tankers that were trying to rescue Baghdad from her fuel crisis as they promised, the convoy escorted by the army lost 20 tanker vehicles and 3 drivers and I doubt other drivers will think of going through this again, at least not now.

All this comes while commanders in the defense ministry are busy refusing the American commanders’ candidate for leading the brigade that is planned to assume security tasks in the heart of Baghdad. The only apparent reason for refusing this candidate-who succeeded in elevating the readiness level of his brigade from class 3 to class 1 according to an American military adviser-the only apparent reason is his Sunni background.
Mohammed al-Askari, spokesman of the defense ministry said they ministry is preparing an emergency security plan to implement incase there’s a sudden withdrawal of American troops.

The interior ministry is also trying to put the blame on someone else than the minister, so they decided to fire Baghdad’s police chief after the city council suddenly realized that he’s the reason for security failure, the police chief also happens to be Sunni!
The report submitted by the city council to the interior ministry and published on al-Mada highlighted 15 negative points on the police chief’s performance including “slow reaction to incidents of abduction and assassination, doing nothing to deal with many terror-classified files that have been waiting on desks for too long, allowing corrupt elements to infiltrate the police force and assaulting homes without warrants…”
All this and the government is preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the army…!!.

The surge in violence has immediately influenced the political situation and in a seriously dangerous manner. The Accord Front and the UIA started exchanging accusations; the UIA is frankly accusing the Front and al-Mutlaq of standing behind terror attacks. In a press conference yesterday Jawad al-Maliki said that killings are targeting people according to their sectarian backgrounds and accused Sunni parties of feeding terror to gain political gains and apply pressure on the government. A security committee of the government is calling the coalition forces to offer “more freedom for Iraqi security forces in chasing terrorists and criminals”.

Amid this, negotiations have reached a standstill. Actually what we are hearing now is announcements and claims from this or that party but there are no more joint press conferences like we used to see till recently.

The Accord Front didn’t remain silent after those accusation, Tariq al-Hashimi and Adnan al-Dulaimi condemned the terror attacks “that target all Iraqis regardless of their sect or religion”.
Al-Hashimi said they want the new president to be a Sunni Arab and declared they-the Front-will not accept a renewal for certain UIA ministers “especially Bayan Jabor”.
The Sadrists-who we mentioned in a previous post that they were trying to ally with the Islamic Party-expressed their readiness to accept a president from the Accord Front and continued their support for Jafari’s nomination for PM.

The Kurdish politicians aren’t commenting but a press release for the PUK made it clear that the Kurds “are ready to cooperate with whoever believes in applying federalism in Iraq”. A statement that makes one think that no deal is final as of now.

Going back to the election results, the election commission admitted that fraud did take place in several regions “because many election officials were not well trained and many acted by their sectarian emotions but fraud wasn’t extensive” and Ferid Ayar told al-Sabah yesterday that “it was technically impossible to monitor all 33000 voting stations nationwide” announced that final results will be announced four days from now but that verified, certified results announcement will take 2-3 more weeks, putting in consideration that the international team of monitors said they’d need at least two weeks to finish their job.

A gathering of Iraqi civil society organizations announced yesterday that they intend to present the fraud evidence they collected to the investigation team.
Adnan Abdulaziz, a spokesman of the gathering revealed that they have counted more than 6000 incidents of fraud and electoral violations but they’re going to present only 1600 of them since those are the ones supported with strong evidence.
The violations included misuse of authority by government officials and security forces to campaign in favor of certain lists.
Abdulaziz added that they even have a video in which a convoy of police vehicles was used in the campaign of a certain list.

The election commission is also coming under attack from al-Mada paper, the respectable newspaper has published a lengthy report supported with names, dates and figures that accuses top commission officials of corruption and skimming million of dollars from the money that was allocated for media campaigns that were conducted shortly before the January and December election.

One example was a contract for producing and broadcasting public service TV clips with a total of 4,666,000 $. The contract was signed in Jan-3-2005, 27 days before the first election day! The contract didn’t specify the number of items produced, their broadcast time, the stations where they will appear on or the number of times each item is broadcast!

Another contract for printing posters with a total cost of 300,000 $ was signed and paid for without even mentioning the number of posters or their technical specifications in the contract. Moreover, the amount of the contract was cashed to the commission’s media officer and not to the print house as it should be.

I think this is the darkest image we have conveyed from Iraq in more than two years but it is a fact that it hasn’t been this bad in Iraq ever since the 9th of April 2003.
The general sense of the public opinion in Iraq is that our politicians who we trusted proved to be unqualified for the responsibility.
Everyone I meet says he feels betrayed by the politicians who keep frustrating us with their incompetence and internal fighting over power.
Iraqis expressed optimism before the election and you read that on opinion polls and we could feel it here in the streets but I’m sure that if those opinion polls are repeated, we’ll see that a great deal of that optimism is gone now.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Approaching stage two...

I’m going to start this with a correction, yesterday we said that the election commission was going to delay the final results for two more weeks but today it has been announced that results will be available on January 10th.

Aadil al-Lami from the election commission announced today that the international investigation team is in Baghdad now and had already participated in one of the commission’s sessions today where they observed the way the commission handles complaints as well as the way ballots are being handled.

Maram’s demands for redoing the elections in several provinces are most likely to be forgotten after the UN and-repeatedly-the election commission said that violations were limited and do not require a rerun. Yesterday Abdul Hussein al-Hindawi said again that elections cannot and will not be redone in any region.
All what Maram is going to get is a decision from the commission to ignore the results of ballot boxes in certain regions including some in Anbar and Mossul, i.e. Maram’s own regions of influence.

Negotiations between leaders of the major blocs seem to have reached an end in Erbil and the only two who appear to have stayed there are Talabani and Barzani while the rest have apparently went back to Baghdad to discuss the outcome of their recent talks in Kurdistan with their cadres and perhaps to prepare for the expected meetings in Iraq.
The Kurdish and Shia leaders have come out from their meetings with an agreement on guidelines that both parties will follow when negotiating with other parties like the Front and Allawi. Those guidelines include points like: rejecting terrorism, extending the powers of the president, applying federalism in the south and middle of the country and not touching [certain articles in] the constitution.

I’m not sure how the Sunni and Allawi are going to react to these demands set by the Kurdish-Shia alliance especially that at least one of them-the one concerning the constitution-is quite vague at the moment but Salih al-Mutlaq expressed his list’s willingness to show flexibility for the sake of national unity “but only to a reasonable extent”.

Allawi is still missing for the second time in too weeks! Most of Baghdad’s papers reported this morning that Allawi flew to Erbil but so far there’s no news of any meeting for him with any Kurdish leader.
Some news reports indicate that Talabani is planning to persuade Allawi to accept the VP position in a presidency council that will have extended powers compared to the transitional presidency council and it is thought that the American ambassador is pushing towards handing the security file to Allawi. However, the 2nd man in the Iraqi list and head of the communist party Hameed Majeed denied these reports.

In an earlier press conference for Adnan al-Dulaimi and Barzani in Erbil yesterday, al-Dulaimi seemed optimistic and he made one remark that I find interesting; he said “if we reach an agreement that all parties will accept, we will witness the end of violence”.
Of course it is not a secret that the Accord Front has direct or indirect relations with Sunni insurgent groups and making such a statement at this time reflects a change in the Front’s attitude from what we heard first when the preliminary results were announced; instead of threatening with escalating violence, the Front is promising to lower violence if they are given what they want.

Another interesting development was what the Islamic Party and the Sadrists have been talking about.
Alaa Mekki from the Islamic Party-which is as you might already know is the extreme Sunni side of the Iraqi political spectrum-Mekki revealed that his party and the Sadrists are about to reach a deal with the Sadrists-the extreme Shia faction-to form a unified bolc in the parliament!
Similar statements from the Sadrists support this news; Baha al-Aaraji whp’s the usually spokesman for the Sadrists said that there are talks taking place between them and the Islamic Party to reach consensus on the formation of the government and on “other issues”, al-Aaraji said they have preliminary agreement on 80% of the issues.

Moving to the other vital issue of nominating the new PM, it looks like the number of candidates-from the UIA-has declined from 6 to 3; now we have only Aadil Abdulmahdi from the SCIRI, Jafari from Dawa Party and Nadeem al-Jabiri from the Virtue Party.
However, Jafari’s trip to Kurdistan seems to have removed his name from Talabani’s blacklist. Talabani said today that “Kurdish disagreements with Jafari and their reservations on his term belong to the past…”.

It is fair to say that the first stage of talks and negotiations is over. There will be at least two more stages to follow before and after the final results are announced next week.

That’s it for today; stay tuned for more daily updates.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Jafari's chances to become the new PM improve, al-Dulaimi rejects federalism.

Today in Erbil began a new round of meetings between the leaders of three of the main parliamentary blocs.
Masoud Barzani has already had two meetings, one with Jafari-who also had a meeting with Talabani-and the other with Adnan al-Dulaimi and Tariq al-Hashimi from the Accord Front.

Each delegation is carrying its own concerns and personal goals that I think will have the priority in the talks; Jafari went to Erbil to win the Kurdish approval for his nomination for a new term as head of the government.

If things move towards deciding the new PM through voting within the UIA, Jafari will be closer to winning than Abdulmahdi is especially that the Sadrists and the independents in the UIA prefer Jafari over Abdulmahdi in general. This could also be part of the recently leaked deal among the components of the UIA that grants al-Hakeem the official presidency of the UIA-we mentioned a few days ago that the UIA will become one political body instead of an alliance of several bodies-in addition to a new role as the bloc’s supreme political reference in return for endorsing Jafari’s run for PM.

This deal followed objections from the Sadrists on al-Hakeem’s negotiations in Sulaymaniya. These negotiations were considered as “unrepresentative of the UIA” and some Sadrist members said they would not commit to any deals made by al-Hakeem. The Sadrists have also declared their opposition to any agreement with the Iraqi list and considered “agreements with Allawi a redline”.

Allawi who hasn’t commented on the situation lately was not invited to any of the meetings in Kurdistan and Mehdi al-Hafidh said again that “no talks about the government should take place before the election results issue is solved…we are awaiting what the international investigators will reveal”.
Also from the Iraqi list, Adnan al-Pachachi confirmed that there had been talks with various parties but denied the rumors that his list has negotiated offers for a role in the government.

Speaking of election results, the commission said that announcing the final results will require another two weeks.

On the other hand, Salih al-Mutlaq said today that he received an invitation to join the talks in Erbil be he refused it because he “didn’t want to create a crack in the agreement with the Iraqi list”.
Al-Mutlaq doubted that the Accord Front went to Erbil to discuss the new government “since the dispute over the results isn’t over yet”.
In this regard, spokesmen from the Accord Front said that Erbil’s talks are “merely routine political talks”.

And as federalism-for-the-south is being heard more often recently especially from al-Hakeem, Adnan al-Dulaimi rejected the whole idea of creating federations in any of Iraq’s regions other than Kurdistan saying that preserving Iraq’s unity requires avoiding applying what fits Kurdistan to other regions.

Jawad al-Maliki from the UIA said in a statement that the government will almost certainly include the UIA, Kurdish alliance and the Accord Front that collectively have more than 2/3 of the seats in the parliament but “it is still possible that the UIA and the Kurds can form the government alone.

In my opinion this means that nothing is certain at all as of now!

It is anticipated that negotiations will move to Baghdad next week in the presence of Barzani who have probably decided to continue Talabani’s efforts in moderating the talks.

In another development, Maram is sending a delegation to meet Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf. It is believed that this delegation will not ask for Sistani’s blessing but according to a member of Maram, the visit will be to “inform Sistani of Maram’s demands and to verify for sure whether or not the Ayatollah had really offered his blessings to a certain list or person”.

The prominent Kurdish politician and current planning minister Barham Salih thinks it would be better to await the final results and he played down the allegations that question the integrity of the elections and said one should “put in consideration the special condition of the country”.
Salih revealed that the two Kurdish leaders had long phone calls with Ayad Allawi trying to convince him to take part in the expected summit in Baghdad.

Looking at all the news and talks from the past two weeks, it seems that our politicians haven’t accomplished anything and the political situation is pretty much the same as it was ten days ago in spite of all the meetings and negotiations. Last time after January elections it took three months after announcing the results to form a government and there was no dispute over the results then.
I think we will need more than that this time but of course the constitution has set a deadline.
So, what’s going to happen then?
I think no one knows!