Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year...New Government.

Attention is moving to Baghdad back from Sulaymaniya after the talks between the Kurdish and Shia politicians ended and according to Izzat al-Shabendar from the Iraqi list, the four major lists will begin extended talks on Monday that will last for three days to discuss the formation of the new government.

I really don’t know who matching this news is with the previous statements coming from Maram which indicated that they would not enter any negotiations on the government until election results are investigated and approved.
It’s worth mentioning that the investigation team will not be in Baghdad any earlier than Monday.

Anyway, if these talks are really going to take place, it will be a good start for breaking the ice between the rivals and will pave the way for more in-depth talks to resolve the dispute. I do not expect a final deal on the government to be born from these talks but at least it will yield some suggestions and probably basic agreements on the headlines.

The Kurds and the UIA already have a clear vision about the shape of the government and they have internal agreement between them on the principals and what supports this thought is that both parties said more than once that they have conditions to ask from other parties but not from one another.

This makes one think expect the Kurdish-Shia alliance to show little flexibility in their negotiations with the rest of parties and I don’t think they will tolerate demands the consider “exaggerated” from the Sunnis or Allawi.

In general the Kurds seem to be the most internally organized party and they managed to get the presidency post for themselves again.

Till recently, the Kurds said they’d not accept the presidency unless the president is granted extended power but now their one has changed to something like “Talabani is the best candidate for presidency”.
However, the Kurds didn’t give the UIA the full chance to make a final deal, Adnan al-Mufti chairman of the Kurdistan parliament expressed the Kurdish concern about the new government breaking the agreement they reached on Kirkuk if Jafari becomes PM again.

The Kurds will most likely push the UIA to nominate Aadil Abdulmahdi for PM, in this regard al-Mufti added “nominating the new PM is the UIA’s job but the Kurdish alliance has several reservations against Jafari’s previous government” and about the presidency issue he added “Jalal Talabani has won the trust of most people for his competence and till now, there’s no substitute for him”.

It looks like the dispute over choosing the PM has escalated within the UIA itself that instead of two candidates, there are six of them now; Abdulmahdi and Abdulkareem al-Inizi from the SCIRI, Shahristani from the independents, Jafari and Jawad al-Maliki from the Dawa and Nadeem al-Jabiri from the virtue (Fadheela) party.

Other parties and trends such as Maram welcomed the international investigators who are coming to Baghdad soon but they rejected the investigation carried out by the election commission which covered only less than 100 ballot boxes with a total of a few tens of thousands of ballots which means it cannot affect the results significantly.
The Iraqi list is asking for the results in Baghdad, Basra and Kirkuk to be thoroughly checked and they also demanded an investigation in the incident of not allowing their observers to monitor the process back on election day in those regions.

Meanwhile Baghdad is still suffering from shortage in fuel and electricity

The simple Iraqi citizen is kind of confused with al the successive statements coming from here and there, with speculations, analyses and rumors flowing in all the time from countless sources. For four decades Iraqis didn’t have freedom of speech or the freedom to hear what anyone other than the government says. All of this made people more anxious and scared because they can’t extract the real image from all this information mess. It is also noticed that the official spokesman of the government Laith Kubba who completely vanished from the scene.

Anyway, the people here wonder if all these negotiations can lead us to a positive end and they hope the rival parties can reach an agreement that is in the interest of Iraq.

Let’s all wish the new year brings the best for Iraq and Iraq’s friends.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2005

I assume most of you have already this story of Firras Hassan, the American teenager of Iraqi origin who went to Iraq to practice “immersion journalism”.

What I think this kid’s story shows is the wide difference between middle eastern and western culture and the effect of each culture on the way people behave under influence from each one.

My first reaction to the story was “if he had lived in Iraq, he would in no way do what he did, no matter how idealist he is”.
I admit that I have heard stories from my parents and people of their generation about young Iraqis fleeing the country to Czechoslovakia because they were communists or fleeing to France because they had pen pals or girlfriends over there but that was back in the 1950s-1960s.

Since totalitarian regimes took over Iraq, that spirit of adventure and making initiatives began to fade away very fast and all what people cared about since then was survival.

Farris’s move was certainly na├»ve and idiotic but I can’t but admire his spirit.

International observers to come to Iraq, the oil minister ousted!

In what‘s supposed to be a “waiting day” in Iraq since it’s Friday, events and developments just kept surfacing and vacation day was just as eventful as any other day of the week.

Baghdad now is suffering from a power siege that began after workers in one of Iraq’s largest refineries-the Baiji oil refinery-came under threats from terrorists who said they’d kill tanker drivers who transport oil products to the rest of the country. The oil ministry responded by shutting down the refinery as a measure to avoid loss in lives. This caused Baghdad to suffer from yet a new fuel and electricity shortage because the refinery supplies many power plants in the country. The electricity outages are most severe in the western part of Baghdad where residents are getting a little more than 6 hours/day.

In a related development, Ahmed al-Chalabi has been asked to run the oil ministry after the minister Mohammed Bahr al-Iloom was forced to take a whole month off!
Bahr al-Iloom said in an interview for al-Hurra that he was planning to submit his resignation after the government didn’t listen to his suggestion for a gradual increase in fuel prices instead of the sudden increase that was activated by the government days ago. Yet Bahr al-Iloom said he “was surprised by the government’s decision to give me an obligatory vacation for a whole month”.
It’s worth mentioning that Chalabi is the head of the “energy committee” in the cabinet which apparently qualified him to replace the overthrown minister and makes one think that Chalabi will be the UIA’s candidate for the same post in the new government. I don’t want to talk about Chalabi Now but from what we see it seems that although Chalabi separated from the UIA, he is still considered as a loyal ally for the religious Shia parties.

Moving on to pure political stuff, the parties lined up under Maram welcomed the decision of an international investigation team to come to Iraq to evaluate the election process and the fraud claims made by the Sunni and the secular Shia parties.
A spokesman of Maram said the investigators are invited to talk to the people in Maram because “that would help them know in what manner the fraud took place…looking at papers and boxes will reveal almost nothing but knowing the background and the methods used in fraud can reveal the truth and that’s what we in Maram can give to the investigators”.
Mudhaffar al-Aani said they hope in Maram to see an investigation team that has the power to make decisions and not only write memorandums.

From their end, Aadil al-Lami the chief of the election commission said they “welcome the investigation team and will cooperate with them. They are free to talk to whomever they want but on one condition that they do not interfere with the commission’s independence…”

In Doukan/Sulaymanya, the talks between the UIA and the Kurdish alliance are still underway but seem to be reaching an end.
And from the statements coming from Talabani and al-Hakeem and the smiles on their faces it looks like they have reached some sort of an agreement. Al-Hakeem spoke warmly about the “historic relations between the two parties”.
Al-Hakeem defended federalism again and emphasized that federalism will strengthen the unity of Iraq instead of breaking its unity.

He has also denied the claims about a breakup between the major components of the UIA; it is known that the Sadrists and the Dawa Party did not send their envoys with al-Hakeem to Sulaymaniya and moreover, the Dawa party has officially announced nominating Jafari for PM but al-Hakeem still denies the presence of any conflict within the UIA.
Waledd al-Hilli from the Dawa Party said today that they in the UIA will resort to a voting process to determine the UIA’s candidate for the PM post which means that the UIA has been so deeply involved in talks with other parties that they didn’t have enough time to resolve their own internal differences.

In the same press conference, Jalal Talabiani attacked the rejecters of the election results and he addressed them by the name; answering a question about Salih al-Mutlaq, Talabani said “it is us who have conditions that al-Mutlaq must fulfill before he can join the government; we cannot accept those who join the terrorists at night and stand on our side in the morning” and commenting on Allawi’s position, Talabani said “we hope that Mr. Allawi goes back to his flexible attitude we used to see from him…” in general, Talabani said that anyone who wants to be part of the government must show a clear position regarding two crucial points; fighting terror and deba’athification.

The final statement of today’s Sulaymaniya meetings reflected an agreement that each party’s role in the government shall be decided by accordance and the principles of preserving national unity rather than by the results of the elections.

That’s all for today.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Accordance, rather than elections will decide the shape of the new government.

Or at least that's how things appear to be heading till now...

As part of an expected series of meetings between the leaders of major political groups, today there’s a meeting between al-Hakeem and President Talabani and a number of senior Shia and Kurdish politicians.
In a speech before the Kurdistan parliament al-Hakeem expressed his sympathy with the Kurdish cause and promised to work hard in that direction because “we are 100 percent with the Kurdish people in finding a solution for Kirkuk’s issue”.

Al-Hakeem also spoke about good chances for the success of new federal states in Iraq, which makes one think that the UIA is seriously considering creating the federation of the south.
The UIA was sending signals suggesting that they will go on and form the government with the Kurds if negotiations with other parties failed, however, the Kurdish reaction to such remarks was rather cold and Kurdish leaders again said that it’s still too early for such plans.

The Kurds believe they can approximate the positions of the rivals in this critical stage, Mahmoud Othman a prominent Kurdish figure spoke in this direction when said “we are part of the solution, not part of the problem…Kurdish leadership wants to be part of a national unity government and the key is in the hands of the UIA who should agree to offer the Sunni parties and Allawi a good share in the formation, especially when it comes to the distribution of sensitive cabinet posts”.
Othman also mentioned that America is serious about seeing Iraqis find a solution “and the US is coordinating with the Kurds to get Iraq out of this crisis in spite of the deep differences between the involved parties”.

Hoshyar Zibari made a similar statement concerning the shape of the new government, he said “the Kurdish alliance and the UIA have the capacity to form a government alone but this will not be in Iraq’s interests at this stage…”.

In his first media appearance since the preliminary results were announced, Ayad Allawi-who’s in Baghdad now-said that’s “it’s still early to talk about the formation of the government as the official results haven’t been announced yet…our list’s and others’ complaints are still being investigated and so we should wait for the results to come”.
Allawi added that his list respects the choice of the people “but there have been many violations and our list lost candidates and campaign workers who were assassinated and some were injured and are still lying in hospitals. We had some of our offices burnt down in the provinces but our policy forbids us from responding to violence with violence, though we were able to do so”.

When asked about the shape of the new government, Allawi answered “there are two options, one is to have a government formed according to the results of the elections but in this case the winners must respect and protect the minorities in a way that allows the minority to practice its role as an opposition. The second option is that we form a government based on accordance and then, the Iraqi list will demand a state of balance in the distribution of posts among the lists.

As to Allawi’s expectations regarding the election results, he said he doesn’t think investigations will make a big difference in the current results.
In the interview for al-Arabiya TV Allawi said he didn’t receive any invitation for any meeting or summit “what is happening now is two parties meeting but as far as I know, there are no plans for a summit to which all involved parties are invited…we are frequently meeting the Kurdish politicians but we will not discuss the formation of the government until final results are announced”.

A surprising move was made by the Sadrists today, Baha al-A’raji who usually speaks for the Sadrist members in the parliament said that two of their trend who were supposed to accompany al-Hakeem on his visit to Sulaymainya but they have later decided to not attend the meeting with Talabani when they realized that Allawi’s list was not invited.

On the other hand, khalaf al-Ilayan, the Accord Front’s envoy to the Arab League said the league will endorse their demands and has agreed to convey their complaints to the EU and UN. In an interview for Radio Sawa, al-Ilayan was asked about the planned reconciliation conference to which he answered saying “if we get our rights in the parliament we will attend that meeting [planned for February] but if not, there shall be no reconciliation”.

Anyway, the next few days will bring to us the final results and then we (and Iraq's politicians) will be able to get a clearer view of what to do and what to expect.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

More on the political conflict in Iraq.

Just like the previous days since the preliminary results of the elections were announced, this day brought some important events and developments and here I’ll try to summarize the most important ones here...

As everyone can easily see, Maram has rapidly grown in size and number of participating parties; now Maram is 50+ parties strong with a total representation of some 80 seats in the parliaments according to the results announced so far.

The parties within this bloc has also chosen a negotiator and a semiofficial leader for them; Allawi and they have also signed a “charter of honor” that requests from all participants to remain under the umbrella of this bloc and not separate from it after the parliament is formed.

This has apparently inspired the UIA-who feel threatened by the growth of this bloc-inspired them to unite their lines even more. The parties within the UIA are putting the final touches on an agreement to turn the UIA from an alliance into one political body under unified leadership.
The new political body will have a new unified platform and new regulations to which all components must adhere.

The election commission had a press conference today where its senior officials dismissed the accusations directed at them and stressed that violations weren’t big enough to justify a rerun but they also stated that the results of certain voting stations in Baghdad, Mosul, Diyala, Kirkuk, Erbil and Anbar will be ignored in the count and that investigations are underway in Basra and Babil.

This morning, al-Sabah published semifinal estimations of seat-allocations, it went like this:

UIA: 130 seats.
Accord Front: 42 seats.
Kurdish alliance: 52 seats.
Iraqi list (Allawi): 25 seats.
Dialogue Front (al-Mutlaq): 11 seats.
Islamic Union of Kurdistan: 5 seats.
Reconciliation and Liberation Front (Mish’an al-Juboori): 3 seats.
Each of Mithal al-Alusi, Risalioon (Sadrists), Rafidain (Christians) and Turkmen Front won 1 seat.
3 remaining seats will go to other religious/ethnic minorities, probably Mendaeen, Ezedyeen.

The preparations for the summit meeting between leaders of the four major blocs that we mentioned yesterday are still underway. Tariq al-Hashimi leader of the Islamic Party said there are “technical difficulties” causing the delay in holding this meeting while a secretary of president Talabani attributed the delay to Talabani’s wish to meet the three other leaders-Allawi, al-Hakeem and al-Dulaimi-separately before the four can sit at one table.

Meanwhile, there are more meetings at lower levels taking place inside and outside Iraq; Khalaf al-Ilayan from the Accord Front is in Cairo to meet Amr Mousa and in Abu Dhabi/UAE, Adnan Pachachi (former GC member and a leading member of Allawi’s list) met Muwafaq al-Ruba’i from the UIA, an unnamed representative of the Kurdish alliance and Mohammed Bahr al-Iloom (former GC member and respected moderate Shia cleric and now independent) the four men met in Abu Dhabi to discuss the latest developments concerning the elections and the shape of the government.

Rallies also continued, today there was another big rally in Salahiddin province where thousands of people demonstrated in support of Maram and in rejection of the election results.
Unfortunately, not all peaceful rallies are tolerated; Akba has a report on a sad incident in Mosul.

Anyway, the worst possible outcome of this struggle isn’t going to be thick black, the same way that the best outcome isn’t expected to be pure while; it’s all shades of gray and we hope we can end up with the lightest one possible.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Awaiting a summit...Awaiting a solution.

In Baghdad, Amman and Sulaimaniya the meetings continue between representatives and leaders of the major Iraqi political bodies.

The past and current meetings are all in preparation for an expected summit in Sulaymaniya where the leaders of the four major lists (Allawi, Adnan al-Dulaimi, al-Hakeem and Barzani as well as president Talabani) are expected to discuss and work out a solution of the dispute over election results and the shape of the new government.

There was news that the meeting will take place tomorrow but the spokesman of president Talabani denied the news, however a source from Erbil’s regional government said the meeting will be next Saturday.
Probably the contradiction in news is intended for security concerns, the pther possibility is that the meeting has been postponed due to political difficulties in gathering the rivals.
Anyway, a meeting will most likely be very soon because al-Hakeem has already arrived in Erbil.

I think the Kurdish politicians will ask for something in return for the great efforts they’re doing and when an agreement is reached among the UIA and Maram, I expect the Kurdish alliance to come up with new demands.
Anyway, if they really help the country pass the crisis, they will have earned a nice reward.

Mehdi al-Haqfidh, planning minister in Allawi’s government said the Iraqi list and Accord Front have agreed to not discuss the formation of the government with other parties before the election results are “discussed and corrected”.
Al-Hafidh pointed out two key factors that he considered essential for reaching a solution; the first is tolerance for all manners of peaceful political work and the other is that all parties must avoid all forms of violence and must not misinterpret or overreact to the actions of the people.

The leader of the Accord Front Adnan al-Dulaimi who was in a short visit to Cairo to meet the secretary general of the Arab League Amr Mousa said they in Maram have established a number of specialized work teams one of which will be dedicated to collecting evidence of election fraud and announced that Allawi has been authorized to negotiate on behalf of Maram and to deliver messages to the Arab League and the UN to describe the extent of violations and convey Maram’s demands of redoing the elections.
This marks a change in Maram’s demands; now they want elections to be redone in only four provinces-Baghdad, Kirkuk, Basra and Babil-instead of the entire country.

Al-Dulaimi also denied the news reports that said the front was willing to pull back their objections if given ten seats from the UIA’s share.
Actually I find it quite interesting that Maram which is mostly Sunni with a large Islamist component chose a secular Shia for leading a great deal of their political campaign. I think it shows a recognition of the leadership skills Allawi enjoys and it means that parties within Maram have to some extent were ready put fanaticism aside when their interests are at stake.

This morning Maram had another peaceful demonstration in Baghdad, thousands of their supporters marched through the 14th of Ramadan Street carrying Iraqi flags and posters and banners of the different parties united under the umbrella of Maram:
“We do not want to boycott the political process in Iraq, on the contrary, we want to push it forward but we must not forget that fraud must be exposed” Said Ali al-Timimi, a spokesperson of the demonstration.

The UIA and Kurdish alliance made some statements too, Abbas al-Bayati from the UIA said they are planning in the Alliance to form a national unity government “not because we are forced to do so but because do not want to monopolize power. We can’t ignore what others achieved in the elections but the magnitude of our achievement must be respected because it represents the will of the people…the UIA believes in the in the strategic importance of a national unity government but that must not be used to put pressure on us”.

Ridha Jawad Taqi, a SCIRI member said there was a meeting yesterday between Aadil Abdulmahdi (the SCIRI’s candidate for PM) and Tariq al-Hashimi the head of the Islamic Party where they discussed several issues related to the security situation and the dispute over election results. Taqi said that “there’s a good chance for a solution in the horizon and in principle, everyone agrees to idea of a government of national unity”.

Barham Salih the planning minister and senior Kurdish politician who’s now in Sulaimaniya told al-Sabah that “threatening with violence are not acceptable but law should be allowed to take its course regarding the fraud accusation” and added “what we are hearing from the leaders of the Accords Front and Iraqi list is different from what you hear in the media…there’s a basic agreement among us to let law and peaceful talks bring a solution…we haven’t reached a solution yet and the problem is still out there”.

In related news, al-Hurra said they’ve been told by Aadil al-Lami in a phone call that the election commission will be having a press conference tomorrow to announce the progress of their investigations. And it’s been reported that the UN is sending in 5 investigation teams to the southern provinces to investigate the accusations of fraud in the region.

Iraqi’s were looking forward to tomorrow’s summit but the postponement will add a few more days of expectations and anxiety to the streets.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Will ten seats solve the crisis?

It’s become clear from the active shuttle-like movement of the rival parties and mediators that the intensity of the political crisis began to subside compared to how things looked like a week ago.
In spite of the violence that disturbed Baghdad this morning, the rival parties resumed their meetings and talks with some politicians playing the role of mediators; the most prominent of whom is President Talabani and even in the two main competing camps we’re hearing moderate voices emerge to propose solutions like the Virtue Party from the UIA and al-Mutlaq from Maram.

There’s another dispute taking place within the UIA itself about who gets to be the new PM. The Sadrists are objecting to the SCIRI’s nomination of Aadil Abdulmahdi. The Sadrists want Jafari to keep his position because he promised them 7 seats in the cabinet including deputy PM. The Sadrists organized at least two demonstrations in Kadhimiya and Sadr city and appeared carrying pictures of Jafari and demanding that he keeps his position.
However, the SCIRI seems determined to go on with nominating Abdulmahdi who the Sunni are relatively more ready to tolerate.

Perhaps one of the most significant meetings that took place yesterday was that of al-Mutlaq with Abdulaziz al-Hakeem; none of the men made clear public statements but al-Mutlaq said later that “everyone is planning to form a national unity government” and he revealed a suggestion to hold new elections within six months under Arab and international monitoring and he said that “we have proposed this to the UIA and the suggestion also includes disbanding the militias and forbidding the use of religious symbols and mosques for electoral campaigning…” but he didn’t say what the response of the UIA was.

On the other hand, al-Hakeem is expected to head to Kurdistan today to have a meeting with Talabani and Barzani to discuss the shape of the government and the developments of the election results talks. Khalilzad will probably be there too to attend the meeting.

A leading figure from the Accord Front told al-Sabah on condition of anonymity that the Front is asking for ten seats to be reallocated from the UIA to them in return for pulling back the Front’s objections to the results, al-Sabah’s report mention that Talabani is pushing in this direction too.
Meanwhile the Front is also looking forward to getting a good share in the compensatory seats; the results of which were expected to be announced yesterday but the announcement was delayed by the election commission for fear that they could aggravate the crisis if the results didn’t appeal to either party.

Nadeem al-Jabiri, head of the Virtue Party is trying to approximate the points of view of the major parties involved and he’s trying to convince Allawi’s list to join the government and announced that he’ll be running for PM as a solution in the middle between the two extremities of the conflict.
Noori al-Rawi, minister of culture and another looser in the elections is also trying to moderate negotiations between the UIA and Maram and in this regard he had separate meetings with Abd Mutlaq al-Juboori (vice president), tariq al-Hashimi and Hussein al-Shahristani to hear from each of them and approximate their points of view.

It also seems that meetings fever has spread to Amman/Jordan; these days there are talk going on there between members of the Accord Front, Iraqi list of Allawi, the Kurdish alliance and the UIA, a report from al-Mada paper said that American diplomacy will be represented in those meetings. The same reports said that it’s been suggested that top government posts should be distributed so that Talabani keeps the presidency, SCIRI’s Abdulmahdi gets the PM post while Tariq al-Hashimi of the Islamic Party gets the chairmanship of the parliament and Allawi gets to manage the security file.

This goes along well with what Mrs.Intisar Allawi from the Iraqi list said; she revealed that they are looking forward to be in charge of the security file in addition to getting a deputy PM or vice president post and one of the ministries of oil, monetary or trade.
Observers think that the foreign ministry will remain in Kurdish hands but Barham Salih is most likely to replace Hoshyar Zibari.

It is believed that who-gets-the-interior-and-defense-ministries is a key point in solving the dispute and the suggestion present now is that the men who should handle these tow ministries must be non-partisan or from a party that has no militias.

Al-Yosha from the UIA pointed out another contested file; that is the Iraqi media network. The Accord Front want to assume control over the media network with its two main branches (al-Sabah paper and al-Iraqia TV) but the UIA are not ready to surrender the network to anyone.

Of course calm and reasonable negotiations are not all we hear; there are also tense statements coming occasionally from here and there; Baha al-Aaraji-a Sadrist-said they “want the government to be formed according to election results and not by accordance and appeasement” adding that “if the Iraqi list is to be part of the government, their share must reflect the number of seats they the won in the election and if they make any exaggerated demands, we will refuse including them in the formation…”

On the other hand, Ayham al-Samara’i-former electricity minister and member of Maram-said that number of political bodies lining under Maram has reached 50 parties and lists and pointed out that all the 50 “have agreed on a plan to keep the pressure in the form of peaceful opposition but if no reasonable solution is reached, civil disobedience will be our next step...”.

In general, it looks like most parties want to assume peaceful ways in pursuing what they want but not everyone; the five carbombs that exploded in Baghdad today suggest that there's someone out there who intends to escalate the crisis.


The election commission announced the results of voting that took place in military bases and 15 countries outside Iraq. The four major lists scored the following numbers:

Kurdish alliance: 176,361 (36.56%)

United Iraqi Alliance: 146,191 (30.28%)

Iraqi list (Allawi): 53,576 (10.11%)

Iraqi Accord Front: 23,409 (4.85%)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

More on election results crisis; Talabani has an initiative.

The different parties in conflict over the election results continued to make more statements in defense of their positions today.
Jawad al-Maliki of the Dawa Party said in a press conference for the UAI that talking about redoing the elections is not acceptable and that making threats is in no one’s interest and he warned that such threats voiced by some parties that can be classified under “terror threats” and can possibly be responded to under the “terror fighting law” considering that some threats were “provoking violence and threatening national stability”.

Al-Maliki said the UIA will submit complaints to the Iraqi Supreme Court to prosecute “those who threaten with violence”.
The Maram gathering-Maram according to Vahal is short for the Arabic equivalent for The Rejectionists of Fraudulent Elections Congress-is relentlessly moving on with their campaign in rejecting the results and demanding redoing the elections but it seems that this campaign is designed to apply more pressure on the Kurds and the UIA to get a bigger share in the government whether the elections are redone or not.

On the other hand the election commission made another update; A’adil al-Lami from the commission said today that they’re examining some 900 ballot boxes that showed suspicious results but he also said that these are not among the boxes that had their results announced. Also he mentioned that total number of complaints reached more than 1,500 including up to 35 major complaints (red zone or red flag) but he played down the significance of these complaints saying that even if all these complaints were valid, they will not significantly affect the final results.

Anyway, the real effort now seems to be what President Talabani is doing trying to reach an agreement with all concerned parties to form a national unity government.
Yesterday Talabani met Adnan al-Dulaimi from the Accord Front and asked him to stick to the legal ways in making their complaints and urged the Accord Front to stay away from the language of violence and threats.

It was announced that Talabani planned to have two more meetings, one with Abdulaziz al-Hakeem and the other with the Accord Front, the Iraqi national list and senior members of the Kurdish alliance but there are doubts that Allawi won’t be here to attend this meetings since some sources revealed that he’s currently in Washington.
These two meetings will prepare for another bigger meeting to which all the four big lists will be invited.
I think to have Allawi and the UIA sit to one table is more unlikely than to have the Front and the UIA meet and talk since the differences between Allawi and the UIA are getting bigger bigger.

In the same regard, the Sadrists have formed a delegation to talk to the rivals and try to approximate their positions but they confirmed that they will never meet with Allawi for the huge differences between the Sadrists and the Iraqi list.
Ridha Jawad Taqi from the SCIRI said that al-Hakkem is making lots of contacts with many parties including Allawi because “we in the SCIRI believe that we should not form the government alone and that all the other parties must have a role in it”.

And in his first comment since the elections, Ayatollah Sistani called on the political parties to unite and form a government that serves national unity.

But Abbas al-Bayati from the UIA had another opinion, he said “if the rejectionists decided to keep their stiff attitude and insisted on their objections, we will resort to forming the government with the Kurdish alliance” but Abdulkhaliq Zangana from the Kurdish alliance thinks it’s still early to talk about a UIA-Kurdish government.

Sunni sources reported that the Front has already discussed keeping Talabani in his post as part of a compromise.
In general, it seems that all parties are interested in Talabani’s initiative and to some extent optimistic about its prospects.

Christmas is here but this year Christians in Iraq decided to cancel all celebrations and parties they usually have in their social clubs and will limit the celebrations to ceremonies in churches for fear from terror attacks.
If you pray, take a moment and pray for peace in Iraq.

Merry Christmas to all…

Friday, December 23, 2005

Dispute continues over election results...

Yesterday was an eventful day for the parties that rejected the results of the elections. Those parties and coalitions-more than 30 in total-signed a “charter of honor” and formed a new movement under the name “Maram”.

The main parties involved in Maram are the Accord Front, Allawi’s list, Salih al-Mutlaq and the list of former defense minister Hazim al-Sha’lan as well as many other Sunni and secular Shia smaller lists and parties that collectively represent more than 70 seats in the parliament according the currently announced results.

Those 35 political bodies established Maram to coordinate their work in rejecting the results they called fraudulent and to press for redoing the elections again under international supervision.

Today the Accord Front organized a huge demonstration in the western half of Baghdad where demonstrators carried banners and chanted slogans accusing the election committee of fraud and bias, this news story by an AP writer estimates the crowds by twenty thousands while the Baghdad TV that speaks for the Accord Front says more than a million men and women were there. No accurate figure can be reached but the demonstrators marched through Baghdad’s widest street “the four streets” in Yarmouk district filled the street for kilometers and in my opinion being able to organize such a huge demonstration suggests that the Front does have a very strong public base in Baghdad that many thousands answered the call within a one-day notice. (Demonstration Vidoe from Baghdad TV).

This joint effort between Sunni Islamists, Sunni and Shia seculars as well as communists in spite of the great differences in their points of view reflects the depth of the worries shared by those parties about having one party monopolize power.
Politicians and demonstrators expressed their disappointment with the performance of the election commission and the violations of the UIA, some felt that the Sunni had been tricked into the political process and think there are two theories, either the international community knew what was going to happen and closed an eye on it or it was also fooled by the other parties [UIA] now the world has to either stand on their (the Sunni) side or confront them. In general, most of the reactions are angry.

However, there’s still hope that the international community will help Iraq investigate what happened and find the truth.
On the other hand, Radio Sawa reported that senior election commission official Farid Ayar submitted his resignation to PM Jafari. Ayar explained his decision in a statement he gave to al-Hayat newspaper in which he said “Time has changed and so did the principles and ethics that used to govern our work”.
Another senior official in the commission Izziddin Mohammadi was rushed to a hospital two days ago when suffered a heart attack, this may-or may not-be related to the stress associated with the current accusations haunting the commission.

Some members from the opposition parties predict that Ayar’s resignation appeal is the beginning of disclosing the scandal.

Al-Hayat said that a member of the UIA who refused to reveal his name said that the UIA was surprised by American movement against them in three methods:

The first method of pressure is through supporting the parties that reject the results and giving them the green light to push the limits of their demands from demanding redoing the elections in Baghdad alone to redoing the elections nationwide.
The second way takes the form of searching for evidence of fraud that prove the involvement of the UIA; this has included several arrests for officials in the south especially in Kut where the ballot-loaded truck allegedly was found in.

The third way is taking the form of threats. The US is threatening to prosecute a number of government officials namely Bayan Jabor, the interior minister who’s been accused of torturing and abusing detainees in secret prisons.

So far, the rival parties are using dialogue and peaceful demonstration and no one has resorted to violence and this is a positive sign that makes us think we still have the chance to resolve the dispute through negotiations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Baghdad for Kirkuk.

I think most of you have seen the disturbing results of the elections after the commission completed counting 90% of the votes. I think the announcement was due to pressures on the commission which also chose to show the results of the Sunni provinces apparently to calm the Accord Front down a bit as the Front achieved good results in those provinces.

Today we heard that a delegation of Hachim al-Hasani (chairman of the National Assembly), Mowafaq al-Rubai’i (national security advisor) and Barham Salih (planning minister, a Kurd) went to the Accord Front to talk to them and convince them to abandon their threatening attitude and to invite them to be part of the new government.

The situation is till tense but the new thing which is not unexpected is that the Kurdish parties finally got what they’d been dreaming of and won 51% of the seats in Kirkuk after they added 200,000 new voters to the registration database just a few days before the election day.
In my opinion we’ve just witnessed a Baghdad-for-Kirkuk deal being made and the Kurds were smart when they delayed the results of Kirkuk for another day. Because of the timing, Kirkuk didn’t get much attention here since the dispute over Baghdad is getting all the attention and dwarfing the relatively smaller issue of Kirkuk.

Today I recalled what Barzani told al-Sharq al-Awsat paper two months ago; he said “we will have no choice but to separate from Iraq if a civil war erupted in the middle and south of the country” at that time I thought it was strange from Barzani to say such things while Iraq was about to make more positive steps represented by the participation of the Sunni which was supposed to contribute to Iraq’s stability. So why did Barzani warn from a civil war when last time’s boycotters were changing their minds to join the political process?

I’m afraid the Baghdad-for-Kirkuk deal is done now and there’s nothing I can think of to reverse the new reality which was forced via a democratic practice.
Right now we’re in facing a big crisis that leaves us before two possibilities; either the Sunni agree to be part of the government and we get a parliament with 200 Islamist members (Sunni and She’at) in the face of 75 secular members, 50 of them are Kurds who won’t care much about this parliament or the rest of the country since they have their own parliament and government in Kurdistan (which is going to include Kirkuk in the near future of course).

Those 200 Islamists will just have to diminish the 25 liberal members and that’s not going to be difficult at all in four years, I mean one year was enough for the Islamists to burn offices, assassinate and intimidate the liberals and seculars.

The second possibility isn’t brighter than the first, probably the rival parties will enter another conflict in which words will not be the only weapon, we will also hear the democracy of mortars and RPGs speak loudly.

And of course the "elected" government will soon ask the “occupiers” nicely-and maybe violently-to leave Iraq as their mission is over and the government is now capable of controlling the people without needing intelligence, air or armor support from the “occupiers” the new government will be able to exterminate and punish all sorts of outlaws.

We did not expect the secular parties to win the election and we said at many previous occasions that Islamists are still stronger; we even expected that the new PM will be Aadil Abdulmahdi from the SCIRI:
we can see that the United Iraqi Alliance still has luck, and to some extent votes, on its side. The Alliance will again be the largest bloc in the parliament, with between 70 and 90 seats. This will grant them the right to have the future Prime Minister selected from amongst their members.

I think the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution (SCIRI), one of the two main Shiite political parties, will not give the PM post to the Dawa Party or the Sadrists. I expect the new Prime Minister to be a SCIRI member. The hot candidate here is Aadil Abdulmahdi, the current deputy PM.

And we said that the secular parties’ role will be limited to balancing the influence of the Islamists during the next four years:
Although the liberal and secular powers aren’t yet ready to take the lead for a number of reasons related to 35 years of oppression and destruction but still, the progress they made in a very short time is impressive and I think their main duty now is to establish balance with the religious parties during the coming four years and I believe we already have a partial balance...

What happened is that secular elements whether Sunni or She’at were marginalized and expelled (al-Mutlac from the Accord Front and Chalabi, Ali al-Dabbagh and Ibrahim Bahril Iloom from the UIA).
Marginalizing those men was the beginning of the coup that began from within the parties themselves.
Actually the UIA themselves weren’t even dreaming about 50% of the seats:

Nadeem al-Jabiri the head of the Fadheela Party (one of the 4 major components of the alliance) said in the interview that their goal is to achieve at least 1/3 of the seats of the Parliament as that would grant them the ability to block any alliance between other blocs.
The people in the Alliance realize very well that their chances to lead a government are getting smaller but they’re still in a state of denial, as one can conclude from al-Jabiri’s words “We have put in our plans that the Alliance shall win at least 1/3 of the seats so that no government can be formed without the Alliance…”.

All they wanted and all they knew they were able to get was 33% of the seats which can give them the veto right in the parliament but the Baghdad-for-Kirkuk deal with the Kurds allowed both of them to get the at least the 51% majority, each in his region of interest.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Who’s playing with fire?

The election commission last night announced shocking preliminary results of the elections in 11 Iraqi provinces.
The results “after counting 89% of the votes in Baghdad showed that the UIA won 1,403,901 votes, the Accord Front won 451,782 while Allawi’s list won 327,174” said a spokesman of the election commission.

These results when final will grant the UIA many more seats that what was expected, the thing that obviously upset the Accord Front.
Four leaders from the Front are holding a press conference right now in Baghdad and they strongly rejected the announced results. Tariq al-Hashimi and Adnan al-Dulaimi, the two leaders of the Front are asking the election commission to “reconsider these results or redo the election in Baghdad…we ask our supporters to remain calm now but if our demands are not met we will have to make different decision” said al-Hashimi who also accused the UIA of putting pressure on the commission to “manipulate the results for the benefit of UIA…the UIA are playing with fire!”.

Al-Hashimi and al-Dulaimi who looked really angry spoke of many violations and incidents of fraud including the report we heard of some time ago about forged ballot papers coming from Iran and the cases in which boxes didn’t reach some Sunni regions.

The Front has also said that they will not approve the outcome of the results and will not recognize the parliament or the government if their objections are not considered or if the elections are not redone in Baghdad under international observation.

Statements that convey frank threats that can possibly lead serious consequence.

No comments till now from the commission, UIA or Allawi but I’ll try to keep you updated…

Update: (1:30 pm)

The Iraqi list of Allawi just gave its comments on the subject without supporting or rejecting what the Accord Front has said.
It is reported that Allawi said he has “reservations on the announced results” which he considered “unpleasantly surprising especially that the results weren’t expected to appear until another 10 days”.

The Iraqi list has also accused the election commission of bias and favoring one particular list [the UIA] over the rest, these accusations included the chief of the commission and another senior official.

Allawi added that only 24 hours before the commission made the latest announcement, the Iraqi list received news from inside the commission itself assuring them that the list won 18-20% of the counted votes in Baghdad and this contradicted the figures that were announced last night which gave Allawi only 14% of the votes.

Aadil al-Lami from the commission told al-Arabiya TV that they will be investigating several “mishaps” that occurred during the 15th of December election but he avoided answering the question if the commission would consider redoing the election in Baghdad or any other province.

Update: (5:00 pm)

The election commission already changed its opinion about the results they announced yesterday.
Ferid Ayar, another senior official in the commission appeared in a press conference less than an hour ago and “corrected” the vote-count of the UIA by cutting away 100,000 votes from it. Now the UIA has nearly 1,303,000 instead of 1,403,000 !

This is still not final result, said Ayar.

On the other hand, Salih al-Mutlaq a Sunni politician who leads the National Dialogue list has also furiously rejected the results and accused the commission of omitting the votes that came to his list and giving them away to the UIA.
He claimed that only in Babil, observers from his list who witnessed the local count were able to count around 60,000 votes for him while yesterday’s results gave him as low as 2,000 only.

Apparently we are facing a problem that cannot be solved overnight.

Update: (6:00 pm by Mohammed)

Reading the results in some detail on al-Sabah this morning, some of the numbers caught my attention and I’m talking here about the number of votes achieved by local small lists or individual candidates in the southern provinces.
The numbers I read were simply ridiculous and here are a few examples from Maysan:

-Lawyer Abdulwahid al-Lami is from the Lami tribe, the biggest in a province that is run by tribal relations. This candidate won 5 votes, yes 5 votes!
This means this man didn’t even get the votes of his own family…it doesn’t make sense. It is as if the man paid 1 million dinar for each vote since the registration fee for candidacy is 5 million dinars. Heh.

-Sheikh Raheem al-Sa’idi was also running from Maysan and he’s a local sheikh of a big tribe that has many thousands of members in the south. This sheikh won 17 votes only!
A usual sheikh is married to at least 3 wives and has dozens of children, brothers and cousins and this one won 17 votes only!

The reason why such numbers are totally ridiculous is because for any party or candidate to register, the commission asks them to bring 500 signatures from supporters!

It is clear that many parties and candidates were marginalized and betrayed by the election commission.
What the commission announced in the above update is just a futile attempt to relieve the growing tension in Iraq.
It is obvious now that the Sh’eat-Kurdish dominated commission which we hoped would act with integrity and transparency closed an eye on the violations committed by the Kurdish and religious She’at parties.

The Iraqi list of Allawi in another reaction said that they commission received 23 alerts of “Red Flag” complaints which represent the highest level of violations, a spokesman of the list said they will obstruct the formation of the new government if the commission ignored those complaints.

Monday, December 19, 2005

On the way to a new government…

*Also posted on Pajamas Media.

The happiness that accompanied the elections has rapidly turned into concerns and anxiety. Voters now worry about the future of their votes and the amount of representation they’re going to get through the lists they voted for.

The IECI stressed repeatedly that no results should be considered official until the commission itself announces the final results but still, numbers and percentages keep leaking from different sources, including people in the commission.

The worries of voters are being fueled by the announcements that keep coming from this or that list declaring “smashing victories” here and there.

Some lists are taking partial results that leak from a single polling center and generalize them over an entire province to give the impression that they have won. Of course none of this can be confirmed or denied until all votes are counted and sorted out.
For example, the UIA claimed two days ago that they ranked first in Diyala but one day after that al-Sabah released another unofficial count that said the UIA won only 13% of the votes in that particular province.

However, partial results can still give an idea of how many seats each of the major lists is going to get and by combining the various estimates coming from different regions it looks like that the UIA is till going to be the biggest bloc in the parliament while the second largest bloc will most likely be the National Accord Front followed by the Kurds and Allawi’s block 3rd and 4th respectively with the difference between seat-totals for the latter three expected to be rather small.
However it’s possible that the latter three will swap places. Again with little differences.

It seems now that the UIA has won around 75% of the seats allocated to the nine provinces where a She’at majority lives; this stands for some 60 seats. Another 25 are expected to come from Baghdad in addition to 10-15 seats of the compensatory seats. So a total of 100 seats is not at all far from the reach of the UIA which will qualify them to have the new PM selected from amongst them.

The National Accord Front on the other hand is currently leading the race in four provinces-Mosul, Salahiddin, Diyala and Anbar- and is also ranking 2nd or 3rd in Baghdad and is also expected to gain a few compensatory seats.
Allwi’s list apparently hasn’t achieved a majority in any particular province but has also ranked 2nd or 3rd in many provinces including Basra, Mosul and Baghdad.
Moreover, Allawi has won by far in the voting that took place in Syria and Jordan.

The Kurdish alliance will certainly win 40+ seats from the three Kurdish provinces, Kirkuk, Baghdad and compensatory seats.

Now what will the shape of the new government be like? This is not an easy question to answer right now and all we can offer is to discuss the different possibilities…

The UIA wish they could form the government on their own without help from other parties, but this will require the majority-138 seats-which is not possible now which means they will have to bring in more parties.
Jafari and other UIA figures are saying that they want to include all political spectrums in the government that reflects national unity and they are sending hints and invitations to other major lists like the Kurds and the Accord Front asking them to join the UIA in the future government.
No response to this invitation came from the Accord Front who seem more inclined to allying with Allawi.

Allawi will in no way ally with the UIA, even last time after the January elections, his bloc preferred to stay out of Jafari’s government and now he wants to be the new PM and the UIA will never accept that. There are many reasons to think that neither Allawi, nor the Accord Front will join the UIA but probably the Kurds-who haven’t spoken much about their plans yet-will consider doing so.

There’s yet another alliance brewing, that’s the possible one between Allawi and the Accord Front but these two will also fail to reach the essential 51% majority alone, so will try to attract the Kurds too.

Actually it is now in the hands of Kurdish politicians to define the shape of the government; if they unite with the Accord Front and Allawi they will collectively have something between 120-140 seats which qualifies them to form the government if the UIA failed to gather enough support.
Anyway, I expect the Kurds to remain silent during the initial negotiations and they will wait for offers to come and they will accept the best offer from what’s proposed.
Their-the Kurds-decision will be affected by a number of factors; their geographical and economic proximity with the Sunni Arab region is one. Another is the issue of Kirkuk which the Kurds have always complained from the lack of cooperation from Jafari’s government in this regard.

If the Kurds, Allawi and Accord Front unite to for a government we will face another very important question; will the UIA accept the idea of being out of power? Will the UIA accept the position of opposition?
I think not…
So what’s the UIA going to do?
To prevent being out of power, the UIA will either send generous offers to revive their alliance with the Kurds and dominate the government again or if they fail to do so, they will probably accept a relatively smaller role in a multi-partisan government but with the PM being from the UIA.

Talbani said he will not accept being president again if the president’s authorities remain as little as they are now and this will make reaching agreements even harder this time.

The Sunni do not want to be on the opposition side this time; they want a decent role in the government so they will ally with whoever gives them a satisfactory share. Of course the sectarian difference with the UIA cannot be overlooked here.

A government with all the four blocs in will prolong the “quota” system of distributing ministries and important posts in the government and that cannot move the country forward and this kind of government is unlikely to happen anyway.

What I personally prefer to see is a government formed by the Kurds, the Accord Front and Allawi, not that I like the Accord Front but more because this will make the Sunni understand that they can have their share of power and this will help persuade them abandon violence and stick to the democratic way instead of arms.
But unfortunately I’m afraid some religious parties in the UIA have not matured enough to act in a civilized way and do their job as positive opposition.

The situation is critical now and it will take maybe two months before the new government emerges and this interval will show how much Iraqi politicians care about Iraqi people.
If they act wisely, the next few months can be a shortcut to a better future for Iraq.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

As promised, here are our selections for the best five banners in the ITM banner contest.
Now you can vote via e mail only to choose your preferred banner; the vote will be closed on Thursday the 22nd of December.
Now you can change the shape of ITM with your choices!






Votes will be accepted only if they come via e mail and each person can vote only once and for one banner only.
Please include [Banner Contest] in the subject area and write the number of your preferred banner in your message.
Please do not let the inclusion of the currnet flag influence your choices, when Iraq gets a new flag it won't be difficult to make changes.

Thanks to everyone who took the time and effort to create these wonderful designs!

By the way, now you can click on this page to see how each one of the above designs looks on ITM! (Special thanks to Neoknight).

Iraq waking up gradually…

Baghdad is still living the election vacation and the people are taking some time to rest from the days of excitement and stress they had before and through the elections.
Traffic on the streets is still light but most stores are open but it will take another day for government offices to start working again.

Street blocks and many checkpoints have been removed and Interior minister announced that all border crossing points have been reopened yesterday except for those on the Syrian border.
The clergy opens its offices again and Sistani receives Jafari in Najaf.
Most of our conversations are centered around the results of the vote and expectations and rumors are fueled by news leaked from voting centers and officials.
we hear news all the time of this or that list coming first in this or that region but senior officials of the IECI say that all such news are not official and must not be relied on. They expect the vote results to be available in less than two weeks.

We saw clearly that the vast majority of Iraqis now believe even more in the political process and in democratic practices and I believe this will undermine the ideology of those who use arms as a way of expression.

In the first 48 hours after the election we noticed that statements coming from politicians are getting more relaxed and the old tense tone began to fade as most of them now feel safe that they will have a representation in the next parliament. Even if this representation doesn’t meet the ambitions they had in some cases but it gave them a sense of security, for example Salih al-Mutlaq who was known for his inflammatory statements like “if we don’t get our representation we will consider other options including armed resistance or leaving Iraq…” now changed his tone after realizing that his list is going to win several seats in the parliament so now he’s saying that he will stay to “defend the cause of those who gave him their votes from his place in the parliament.

Other politicians began talking about and negotiating alliances to face the UIA, one of the most unexpected yet encouraging statement came from Adnan al-Dulaimi the head of the National Accord Front, the list that is apparently winning a decent number of seats in the Sunni provinces and Baghdad. Dulaimi said that his list is ready to ally with the Kurds or the secular She’at in a clear hint to Allawi. This is reassuring since it shows there’s an inclination to establish balance in the parliament unlike last time which was led by only two big blocs.

I think the worst scenario we can have is a religious She’at domination but this is not likely to happen considering the current facts; the UIA will certainly fail to achieve the number of seats they got last time and their ambitions cannot exceed the 90 seat-ceiling (140 last January).
From what we saw and heard so far, the results of the elections In general will be pretty much similar to what we had expected in this election preview from ten day ago.
It is now a fact that many other parties are willing to show more flexibility and unite their efforts to face the UIA especially because they know now that no one list can confront the UIA alone.
The next couple of weeks are going to be very interesting and full of activity.

Although the liberal and secular powers aren’t yet ready to take the lead for a number of reasons related to 35 years of oppression and destruction but still, the progress they made in a very short time is impressive and I think their main duty now is to establish balance with the religious parties during the coming four years and I believe we already have a partial balance but the next round of election will witness a gain for the liberals and seculars over the religious.

Anyway, from taking a look at the history of nations and in a simple comparison between Iraq and experiments in other countries I think Iraqis have the best record in making substantial progress in a short time in a tough environment.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Words from Iraq…

Yesterday Iraqis successfully passed another chapter of the democratic transformation of their country.
We’re not sure if we put the right choice on the ballot paper put I’m 100% sure that Iraqis made the right choice by resorting to the ballot boxes to the solve their problems.

A dear friend of mine sent me a few words to express his happiness and hope and I think his words reflect what millions of Iraqis felt about yesterday’s historic event.
He asked me to share his words with you, and I am:

Like eyelashes close in delight upon the sight of one's lover, the boxes closed their lips on Iraqis’ ballots.
The tyrants forced us to remain silent for decades but yesterday our fingers spoke out loud in purple.
The fingers wore their purple wedding dress while the enemies wore the black of hatred and evil.
Elections have become the new tradition of Iraqis, those new democrats who proudly want to show the world their new experiment but on the other side there are our “cousins” who still want us to go back to the sheep barn.

We marched to vote and we respected our differences while Saddam is creeping in his cage chewing on his hatred.

From 59 to 64 to one year our people have proven that the future belongs to them and not those whose claws scarred Iraq’s neck.

A few bombs and some bullets, that’s all what the terrorists could do to interrupt the carnival in Baghdad. The people heard the explosions but those weren’t loud enough to distract the marching hearts from their destination. I saw our policemen yesterday showing their hearts too when they refused to wear their armors, maybe because they didn’t want to let anything stand between our hearts from theirs.

I asked an election official about the problems they faced. He answered laughing:

“Iraqis are like sweet fruit, and their sweetness lies in their big hearts and meeting them at the voting station yesterday was enjoyable like eating a good plate of sweets! They cast their ballots while I enjoyed the Iraqi symphony of patriotism”.

It was a day of happiness for Iraqis and a day of loss for the strangers who thought their camels brought them to a land void of patriots.

It is a day we will await to come again for four long years…to do the right thing again or to correct the mistake if we did one yesterday.
Anyway, I believe we left a mark on the face of history, a purple mark that will not be forgotten easily.

God bless Iraq and Iraq’s friends throughout this world. It wasn’t our day alone; it was your day too.

Aash al-Iraq…Aash al-Iraq.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hey! How about giving ITM a little push? Although polls in Iraq were closed several hours ago, you still can get a virtual purple finger by voting here!

We got our purple fingers!`(Updated)

10:30 am Baghdad time (Also available on Pajamas Media).
*This post will be updated many times, so keep refreshing and scrolling!

We have noticed on our way to the polling station that the streets are much quieter this time than they were back in January.
Of course we did hear a few explosions, probably RPG or mortar fire but nothing compared to the attacks we had last time in number or size….so far at least.

The deployment of Iraqi security forces on the streets was heavy with a noticeable absence of American forces except for their presence in the skies; there are many Apache helicopters and jet fighters as well as small surveillance planes al over Baghdad.

The number of voting officials, independent observers and political bodies’ representatives is higher than what we saw in January.
From what we saw, people feel safer walking to the voting centers this time; many of them were carrying Iraqi flags.

There are no cars moving on the streets except for those of the police and army and of course there are children, lots of them playing soccer on the empty streets.

Also, tearing posters seems to have been taking place everywhere last night!

We have no numbers on turnout levels so far but from what I saw, there was a decent turnout in my neighborhood.

In a press conference, the IECI has announced that there are no reports as of now about any direct attacks on voting centers and that a number of lists have been fined for not committing to the exact date and time of “electoral silence”. The names of these lists will be announced later this evening.
The IECI has also revealed several measures for preventing election fraud; first of all any ballot box that comes with a suspiciously high result (90%) for any single particular list or candidate will be reconsidered and will be subject to further checking.

According to the IECI there are certain codes unique to each ballot box and to the locks used to seal the boxes. So any box that carries a wrong code will be discarded.

Some journalists complained from not being allowed to enter some of the centers and the IECI promised to solve this problem.

More updates will come to you soon from Baghdad and eight Iraqi provinces, so keep checking here and on Pajamas Media for the exclusive coverage!

The first report from Kurdistan:

From our correspondent W.Z in Erbil, for Pajamas Media:

The carnival of elections has begun in Erbil under strict security measures; the Peshmerga, police and “Asayesh” security corps are doing a great job in providing a safe environment for the voters.
Voters flocked to the polling stations to democratically elect a four-year government for the first time in Iraq’s modern history.
In center #24 in downtown Erbil I have talked to a number of voters after they cast their ballots and most of whom said they gave their votes to list 730 the Kurdish alliance.
Mr. Kamal Serwan expressed his happiness with the process and said “I voted 730 because it is the list that grants us a federal Iraq and protects our rights…”

Mrs. Norhan Mahmoud also voted for the same list and commented “I voted for them because they will preserve the unity of Iraq and serve the ambitions of our people…”

12:00 pm from Baghdad by Mohammed for ITM and Pajamas.

The ministers of interior and defense said in a joint press conference a few minutes ago that the Iraqi security forces are at high alert and are doing a great job so far and pointed out that there have been no major security incident till this moment and they announced that a truck loaded with explosives and munitions was captured an hour ago while trying to enter Baghdad.

The defense minister Dr. Sa’doon al-Dulaimi said that Anbar is currently stable to the degree that it is ready for the election.
Both ministers stressed that keeping security is the responsibility of the government’s security institutes and that “militias must not be allowed to interfere with the government’s duties”.
When asked about the poisoned-water rumors that spread last night in Baghdad, the interior minister said that such rumors are aiming at destabilizing the situation on the elections eve and he mentioned that “the main water plants are very well protected by an entire brigade in addition to an armored company”.

The minister also discredited the reports about a truck loaded with forged ballot papers entering Iraq from Iran “This is a mere rumor, bring the driver or show the truck if it is true! This report is illogical”.

The defense minister who isn’t running for office in this election refused to reveal to whom he gave his vote because “this particular ministry is for all Iraqis and politics must not affect the attitude or performance of the military institute”.

First report from Kirkuk, by our correspondent O.R from Pajamas Media:

The voting process began at 7 am sharp, and under strict security measures.
The turnout levels during the first few hours were lower than those back in January but in general, it is still higher in the Kurdish parts of the province than in the Turkmen or Arab regions.
It is worth mentioning that the IECI has agreed to allow 200,000 newly registered Kurds to vote in Kirkuk in a controversial step.

For some unknown reason, the IECI authority in Kirkuk limited the press access to only 5 polling centers; two in the Turkmen region and one in each of the Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian regions of the city.
Until this hour, there are no reports on violations or incidents of violence or fraud.

First report from al-Muthanna/Samawa from our correspondent K.H for Pajamas Media:

The security forces in the province are doing great efforts to secure the elections here. We talked to Colonel Mohammed Najim from the city police who said:

“Our forces are all on high alert to protect the voters and the polling centers; we have also coordinated our efforts with other entities like the transportation, fire departments as well as with hospitals and towns’ councils to be prepared for any emergencies…more than 5,000 policemen established a security ring around the 153 polling centers spread around the province, so we have more than 20 men guarding each center”.

Voters headed to the polling centers early in the morning and the process is moving smoothly so far with no terror attacks or violence.

There were also numerous fixed and mobile patrols and checkpoints on the streets and some streets were closed with concrete block, however this hasn’t stopped the residents of Samawa from demonstrating against al-Jazeera TV in response to yesterday’s irritating show that directed harsh criticism to Ayatollah Sistani.

In general, the turnout is expected to be high in the province which is home to 315,000 registered voters.

A report from Babil from our correspondent A.T for Pajamas:

Starting from 7 am all the polling centers in Babylon opened their doors to receive the voters, the turnout was light in the first three hours but it increased after that in a good way.
The first voter was a disabled man, Jasim Hameed (65) he attended at 6:30 am and insisted on being the first one to vote.
When he put the paper in the box said "I'm here at this early hour to challenge the terrorists who want to kill the democratic process in Iraq and I want to encourage the healthy people to vote”.

On the other hand the spokesman of the IECI in Babylon the lawyer Kais al-Hasnawi stated that the Election Commission sealed and secured the last five boxes that belong to voting in hospitals and police stations that took place on Tuesday.
He also said that they faced a problem with about 1,500 people (doctors and policemen) who were out on duty and didn’t get the chance to vote elsewhere.

The spokesman of the police command in Babylon Captain Muthana Khalid stated that the security forces in Jurf al-Sakhar were able to arrest two brothers transporting 72 mines and IEDs and they confessed that they were about to plant them near and on the ways leading to the polling stations to prevent the people from voting.

On the other hand the Iraqi Army made a cordon-and-search operation based on intelligence reports of possible terror cells planning to attacks the voters on their way to the polling centers.

An update from Mosul from our correspondent N.R for Pajamas:

Officials from the IECI office in Mosul announced that turnout levels were as high as 80% of registered voters in many polling centers and this figure is expected to go even higher n the afternoon since that’s the time housewives find best for going out!

Voters in al-Ba’aj town near Mosul are facing a big problem trying to vote. It is known that vehicles are not allowed to move today and this small town is 10 km away from the nearest polling center.
Those people have contacted officials in the IECI and they hope they can find a solution for their problem, as polls will close in less than 3 hours.

A report from Babil from our correspondent A.T for Pajamas:

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad visited a voting center in the province today. He was accompanied by four congress members and the American consulate top official in the Iraqi south.

When asked by journalists why he chose to visit Babil his answer was “I chose Babil because of the good security in the city, here I feel I’m in good hands!”.

The Ambassador and the other guests congratulated the Iraqi people on this democratic step and they praised the efforts made by the local administration to bring security and stability to the province.

Senator Joeseph Baiden who accompanied the ambassador Khalilzad in his visit to Babil emphasized the importance of succes of democracy in Iraq and expressed his hope that the new parliament will be capable of enforcing law and stabilizing the country.

Our friend W.A was kind enough to send us this report from Baghdad:

Last night was really tough and long because we spent it under the pressure of the Arabic MSM terrifying the people and spreading Zarqawi threats that it would be a bloody day. On the other hand a rumor spread out in the middle of the night telling that the water is poisoned, well I guess the "antihuman" wanted to poison our election day.
Early in the morning the Iraqis flocked toward the polling centers not caring about some mortars that went down here and there, the kids kept on playing soccer in the empty streets, the mosques-Sunni and Shii-were calling and urging people to vote.

There was a little difference in the two calls; while the Sunni were calling the people to vote for the sake of Arab Nationalism the Shia mosques were calling to vote under the Fatwa of Sistani whom being fiercely attacked by al-Jazeera news channel and this made his Fatwa gain more voters.

Al-Haj Abo Mohammed al-Furaiji took all his family members that were eligible to vote and soon they all walked out from the polling center smiling and saying “we chose what we wanted”.

Shandookh Alwan Ibrahim, a disabled man on wheelchair and a father of three young men who were executed by Saddam said: “Our future is in our hands, today is the celebration day for the poor and I'm one of them and we need someone in charge who can shoulder the responsibility”

Muhaisin Bidairy Abdullah who was born in 1900 and I think he is the oldest amongst the voters came leaning on his grandsons and could hardly breathe with tears visible in his eyes…maybe because he won’t be able to attend the next elections.

Asla Hussein a 70 year old woman, who has 5 members of her family executed by Saddam, said we want the remaining members of our family to live in peace.

The encouraging thing I noticed was that security forces treated the voters well and didn’t interfere with the voting process.

A report from our correspondent in Basra A.D for Pajamas:

The residents of Basra rushed to the polling centers in great numbers from the early hours of the morning in spite of the thick fog that engulfed the city.
We were waiting at the gate of center #932 from 6:30 and it took us a long time to get inside because of the strict security checks.

The gate opened exactly at 7 and we were let in but we have learned that there were only certain centers where journalists were allowed to enter.
Anyway, the voting process is going on quietly and without complications and we noticed that there were too many representatives from various political parties observing the process and watching for any possible violations.
There was also strong presence for people from civil society organizations who monitored the procedures of sealing the boxes and recorded the serial numbers of the seals and stamps.

Dr. Mohammed Qasim, the manager of the center expects the turnout to be even higher in the afternoon and he highlighted the skills and good training of the officials working with him.

I have talked to a number of the voters who were glad to find the polling centers operate in a high level of organization and transparency.

The security forces are doing a fine job securing the areas around the 300 polling centers in Basra and there are no reports on incidents of interference with the voting and till now there are no reports on any terror attacks or electoral violations in Basra.
One can feel the good security situation when he sees people walking in masses down the streets flying Iraqi flags and chanting for democracy in Iraq.

More photos our correspondent in Erbil, W.Z for pajamas:

This time of people dancing and celebrating the vote!

From our correspondent in Kerbala, I.S for pajamas:

People rushed to the polling centers in Karbala since early morning and the first person who voted was a 53 woman who sells dairy products on a sidewalk.
She said: "I had to come early to be able to go back to my work I need to sell all this stuff you see" and she was referring to a tray full of cream and cheese she was holding!

Another citizen came early and he explained why he did so by saying: "I have a work shift in the hospital to catch up with …I’m a medical assistant".

Voters’ turnout began to increase after 9 am and in a simple survey I made among a number of them I found out that the competition is going on between two major lists the United Alliance, Allwai and a third smaller one called al-wala' Islamic party.
And in a previous meeting with an IECI official in Karbala he stated that the number of polling stations is 211 and they are ready to host 409000 voters.

An update from Erbil from our correspondent W.Z for Pajamas:

In a celebratory mood the voting process continues in Erbil the capital of Kurdistan. The people still flocking to the polling centers eagerly willing to vote and feeling extremely happy with the purple finger they get after voting calling it the ink of freedom and democracy and they felt very safe because of the security measures were taken by the security forces to secure the elections.

Many of the voters showed a good awareness by stating how important it is to participate in this elections because it will be they key factor to stability in the future Iraq and they hoped that the Kurdish Alliance will get a good number of seats in the coming parliament for they trust the Kurdish leadership for not being a "neither religious nor sectarian" one.

We met one of the officials in charge in one of the polling stations and asked him few questions about the voting process:
Q: how was your day in the polling center?
A: it really a distinguished day and we worked on setting order and providing security needed.
Q: how is the turnout in your station?
A: as you can see the turnout is very high and from what I hear from the voters themselves, most votes went to the Kurdish Alliance.
Q: did you face any problems or violations?
A: until now the process is going very smooth and the supervisors are doing their job very well in helping and guiding the people during the process.

Outside the station groups of young men and women were celebrating this big day turning it to a big festival hoping for a better tomorrow and a government that will eliminate all the obstacles preventing the country from progressing and having a better future.

Update from our correspondent in Basra, A.D for Pajamas:

More and more people are going to the polling centers and the turnout levels have exceeded 84% in some centers, for example in the center that lies in al-Khaleej district more than 2650 voters did vote as of 3 pm out of 3190 registered total voters for this particular center.
The overall turnout is estimated at around 75% in the province.

The process is taking place in a democratic and peaceful environment and there are apparently no pressures from political parties on the voters.

It has been noticed that some people who live far away from their designated voting centers had a problem in reaching those centers so they asked the officials in the local IECI office to allow them to vote in other near centers but they got no positive response till now because of the strict regulations of the IECI that do not allow people to vote in any place other than the ones they’re originally registered at.

Afternoon update from I.S from Kerbala for Pajamas:

Interview with the IECI staff:

The manager of one of the polling centers talked about his staff and said: "we have 34 people working with us; employees, supervisors and inspectors…" and answering my question about the representatives of the political bodies who want to monitor the process he replied: "we have only five stations in the center and each station can hold only four monitors so we had to make the monitors take turns on watching and monitoring"
Then he added "the voters this year are more aware of the process and some of them gave written notes to us about the violations they think have taken place in the center.
And in an interview with one of the representatives of one of the political bodies he mentioned that the staff of the IECI was very cooperative with the representatives and the voters and there were no violations in this particular center.

From Mohammed from Baghdad: BREAKING!

Mr. A’adil al-Lami, a chief official in the IECI announced a few minutes ago that voting time will be extended for another hour (till 6 pm) in every polling center where there are many people still standing in lines when the original closing time of 5 pm was reached.

Mr. Lami confirmed that there have been some major violations in Kirkuk but most of them taken care of and corrected.
No official figures on turnout till now but it is believed to be higher than that of January.

From our correspondent in Najaf, A.S for Pajamas:

*Sorry for the delay in presenting this report, the reporter had a hard time finding an internet connection!

From the early hours of this morning thousands of Najafi’s walked down the streets heading to the polls in a true carnival of practicing our democratic right.

We toured 10 polling centers and made a number of interviews with some of the voters in those polling centers.

Mr. Ali Hassoon al-Badri said “everyone must realize that electing our representatives is a basic right for everyone and it is not a gift from anyone and that it draws the line between freedom and tyranny…”

Mr. Haider Noor said “I believe we can’t afford to lose the right of voting and that’s why I came here today…”

We stopped by the Najaf office of the IECI to talk to Mrs. Bushra al-Zamili talked to us about their preparations and the progress of the election process:

“we tried our best to make this election succeed and I tell you that our techniques in counting and sorting out the ballots are better and more advanced this time…in Najaf we have 529,890 eligible voters who are casting their ballots in 254 centers. Until this moment we have not received any report on fraud or violations except for some parties manipulating the names on the badges we gave them but nothing major in general…”

We have also conducted a little survey near one of the polling centers; we distributed 70 forms and asked 70 voters to fill them out. Our questions were:

Who did you vote for? The results were:
46 for the UIA, 14 for Allawi, 8 for list#541 and one vote for each of the lists 696 and 835.

What made you vote for this list? The answers were:
47 for “they can improve security”, 11 for “ending the presence of foreign troops”, 6 for “social and religious values” and 6 for “improving security and reconstruction”.

What is the biggest problem facing Iraqis?

Almost all the answers mentioned security concerns.

What affected your vote?
The answers included personal opinion and religious beliefs.

70 people participated in the survey (46 males and 24 females) and their ages ranged from 18 to 75 and their education ranged from elementary school to master degrees.

Our correspondent in Mosul, N.R had this update for Pajamas:It was prepared shortly before the polls closed.

The governor of Mosul Mr. Draid Kashmola visited some of the polling stations in the province, and in his talking with some of the people he emphasized on participating in this process and that voting should not be based on sectarian or ethnic affiliations that didn’t present anything to the Iraqi people during the previous period adding that all the Iraqis are in "one boat" and they all have a common future. He went on with his speech by criticizing those who doubted our security forces ability to keep the stations safe from the terrorists.

On the other hand the representatives of some of the political bodies expressed their concerns about the fraud that might happen during counting the votes since they were not able to see any of the supervisors and they sent an emergency call to the NGOs’ working in Mosul to take part in this stage to make sure that the voting process will remain fraud-free.

One of the candidates on list #829 stated that he suspects that fraud had taken place in Mosul’s suburbs and added that he prefers not to talk about it now, while other people mentioned that elections in Mosul were clean and no fraud took place anywhere inside Mosul but they still think it is not impossible to happen.
Though it only minutes away from closing the boxes but still there are substantial numbers of people still coming to the stations and this success is due to the callings made by some clerics in Mosul urging the people to vote.
One of the managers said that since no attacks happened in Mosul urged the families to participate in a large way.

The IECI called for the media and the supervisors and the representatives of the political bodies to stay for the votes counting.
Mosul police command declared that they will provide cars to transport the people who live far from the polling stations and this gesture was highly appreciated by many of the people who benefited from this service.

From Mohammed of ITM/Baghdad:

The polls closed in all centers 90 minutes ago!
The IECI had a press conference half an hour ago that pretty much summarized today’s events. From watching this press conference and analyzing the reports we received today we can say that the following points represents the most important findings:

-Security was much better than last time in January and there were only a few minor incidents.

-It was clear that the IECI and its multi-thousand strong staff did a wonderful and exceptional job in such a hard time to make the election go in the best way possible.

-The Iraqi Army and police were successful in giving our people the opportunity to vote in a peaceful environment.

-The total registered voter-count was 1,000,000 higher than in January after adding Iraqi citizens who were born in 1987.

-15, 5 million+ Iraqis cast their votes in more than 30,000 station spread nationwide.

-All the assassinations and intimidation that preceded the election could not stop the process.

-There have been strict measures to make sure that all ballot boxes and station are in compliance with the standards of the IECI and now it’s their-IECI-duty to make sure that no boxes were replaced or manipulated.

-The presence of the press and representatives of political bodies and civil society organizations was profound although there were limitations on the presence of media workers. But however, the process was being watched 600,000 eyes!

-The IECI distributed 5,000,000 posters nationwide to educate the population on the process and encourage Iraqis to vote.

-2 million brochures were distributed to inform the people on the technical and moral aspects of the election.

-Countless numbers of conferences, lectures and workshops were held to educate the people and encourage them to vote.

-Almost all the defects that took place in some regions today were basically cases in which voters couldn’t find their names in the voter-lists.

-Counting the votes has begun in all stations and the results will be collected and conveyed to the provincial offices to be later conveyed to the IECI HQ in Baghdad.

This final update came from our correspondent in Erbil, W.Z for Pajamas:

After an eventful day with for the voters the polling stations closed their doors at 5 pm while the voters were still arriving!
We met the IECI officials in one of the stations and we asked him about this day and the efforts the IECI made to assure the success of the voting, he replied: "it was really a big day and it turned to be a celebration just like the Norooz day. Then he added I'm extremely happy that I can't even feel tired.

We also asked him about the voter's turnout and he answered "it was more than what we expected" and regarding the obstacles they faced today he said "the only obstacle we faced today was some 14 to 17 years old boys who wanted to participate and when we prevented them they organized some kind of demonstration in front of the station!"
And when we asked him about his expectations he stated that: "he don’t have any numbers now and we will wait for the results to come from the provincial office too" and his last answers was about if there was any violations he said "no everything went on smoothly".

Our correspondent in Mosul, N.R sent this update for Pajamas:
Counting the votes has begun in the entire territory of Nineveh provinces and its capital of Mosul.
An IECI spokesman in the province said that all parties and lists have the right to send their representatives to observe the process of collecting and evacuating the ballot boxes and we actually did see small numbers of those representatives accompany the IECI officials to the provincial office.
Some of those representatives had complaints that were not answered by the local electoral authorities so they decided to send their complaints to the main office or even to the Supreme Court if they didn’t get convincing answers for their complaints.

From its end, the IECI called upon all lists to “be patient until the counts are over”.

According to semi-official information we were able to get, it seems that the National Accord Front will rank first on the province followed by Allawi’s 731 list and then by Salih al-Mutlaq’s while the UIA are expected to score excellent results in the suburbs of Mosul where lives a Sheat majority.

Observers see that the seemingly inevitable success of the Accord Front is attributed to their religious inclination which attracted many votes from Mosul. Add to this that mosques led a powerful campaign to urge the residents to vote for this list.
In spite of the reservations and objections of the educated class in Mosul, the Accord Front will get much of the votes and this can also be attributed to the fact that the Islamic Party which has a strong public base in Mosul decided to join this list.

However, there were many people who voted for other lists as we mentioned above and they explained that they made this decision because the Islamic Party’s visions do not serve their ambitions especially that “this party flip-flops”!

Our correspondent in Babil A.T had this final report for Pajamas:

Polls close at 5 pm in many centers in the province while some continued to receive voters until 6 pm.
Counting the ballot papers has begun in all of the 268 centers that exist in Babil.

Lawyer Qais al-Hasnawi spokesmen of the IECI in the province announced that turnout levels in Babil ranged between 65-70% which puts the province among those with the highest levels of voters’ turnout.

Al-Hasnawi revealed that “hot spots” usually known as the death triangle like Jurf al-Sakher, Musayab, Haswa and Alexandria had also recorded high turnout levels without any violations.

We have talked to a number of political parties’ representatives and they were all satisfied with the security measures and the transparency that accompanied the process.

We have also noticed some interesting events and gestures in Babil today; things like:

-Several polling centers distributed sweets and soft drinks to the voters while men and women cheered and sang celebratory songs.

-An election official refused to let the governor of Babil cast his ballot until he showed his id cards!

-Some voters marked their choices with blood by pricking their fingers in a demonstration of patriotism.

-The city council in Hilla (the provincial capital) arranged to bring 125 buses to move voters from their homes to the polling station.