Iraq returning to post-election tensions?

Iraq’s Independent Higher Election Commission (IHEC) has taken much longer than expected to publish the results of the general election conducted five days ago, on Sunday. Their English-language website is here. I leave it to my esteemed friend Reidar Visser to interpret the details of what the IHEC has been releasing– e.g. here, yesterday evening. I will note only that the “latest news” posted here on the IHEC website tells us that they have (very) preliminary results only from five of Iraq’s 18 provinces– and of those, in the province in which the vote-counting was most complete, Najaf, the proportion of votes counted was still only 34.11%!
So it is still far too early to “call” the election even there. It looks as though the process of counting all the votes throughout the country will be a long one indeed.
Which need not be a problem in itself. There are plenty of countries in which vote-counting takes one or two weeks, due to to poor infrastructure of various kinds. And in this election, it’s true that the ballot sheets are enormous and complex, thus very difficult to handle in bulk and to tally.
However, the slowness of the IHEC in completing its work is bound to raise fears and tensions throughout the country, especially fears and accusations of ballot-rigging– just as happened in Afghanistan after last August’s election.
In Afghanistan, the sharp inter-party tensions that arose after the election were only finally reduced, after a number of weeks, when the main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew his challenge to the announced results. To the huge relief of the U.S. authorities in the country, that meant they, NATO, and the U.N. would not have to go through the enormous bother of organizing a run-off election. And Hamid Karzai was rapidly reinaugurated as president.
I’ve seen no reports on what inducements Abdullah was offered to withdraw, but I’m assuming there must have been some big ones, supplied by someone.
In Iraq, the post-election controversies could, but may not, become equally polarizing. There, it looks so far (but still with only very preliminary numbers) as if PM Maliki’s State of Law will emerge as the bloc with the largest number of seats, but well short of a simple majority, and even further short of the two-thirds majority required for many significant steps in governing the country. Therefore– as in Israel!– even if there is no controversy over the counting of the votes, there may still be a lengthy period of post-results coalition-forming haggling.
That was kind of what happened in Iraq in 2006. And then, of course, those post-election tensions immediately became tied up with the eruption of brutally intense sectarianism that followed the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra.
This time around, I am fairly strongly convinced– unlike some others in the antiwar movement here in the U.S.– that the U.S. authorities really do want to try to get the bulk of the military out of Iraq in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement of November 2008. And to do this without the whole process being a debacle that would certainly destabilize the whole region, they need some form of “legitimate enough” government to emerge and start governing in Baghdad.
Just as, for slightly different reasons, they needed some form of “legitimate enough” government to emerge in Afghanistan last summer…
In the present global-political context, in which the U.S. has tied itself and much of the U.N. bureaucracy to the idea that western-style elections are an essential component (or source) of political legitimacy, having a “legitimate enough” government in a country under direct U.S. sway means that that government must emerge from elections that are also judged to be “legitimate enough”.
I earlier explored a few of the challenges involved in plucking “legitimacy” out of a severely challenged election with regard to the Afghan elections of 2004, here, and 2009, here.
It is not clear whether– or how– this may happen in Iraq. We need to stay attuned to the fall-out that can be expected throughout the whole region if the post-election political challenges there cannot be speedily and satisfactorily resolved.

That ‘democratic justification’ for invading Iraq, Part LXIII

It’s Tom Friedman, at it once again in today’s NYT!
Here we are now, almost exactly fourteen Friedman Units (F.U.’s) after George W. Bush’s (heavily Friedman-supported) invasion of Iraq, and the arrogant and over-rated “Sage of Bethesda” is now telling us that the decidedly mixed, and violence-plagued picture of what happened on Sunday’s election day in Iraq was unequivocally “a very good day for Iraq.”
Friedman completely omits to mention the big role that his own writings (and those of many NYT colleagues) played in 2002, in building up the nationwide constituency for the war. Instead, he just notes archly that,

    Some argue that nothing that happens in Iraq will ever justify the costs. Historians will sort that out.

That is, of course, also GWB’s own, famously self-exculpating line about the war.
And the Sage of Bethesda (SOB) doesn’t fail to give us one of his frequent little, faux-intimate verbal sparring matches with a world leader… In this case, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, to whom Tom addresses the following:

    How are you feeling today? Yes, I am sure you have your proxies in Iraq. But I am also sure you know what some of your people are quietly saying: “How come we Iranian-Persian-Shiites — who always viewed ourselves as superior to Iraqi-Arab-Shiites — can only vote for a handful of pre-chewed, pre-digested, ‘approved’ candidates from the supreme leader, while those lowly Iraqi Shiites, who have been hanging around with America for seven years, get to vote for whomever they want?” Unlike in Tehran, Iraqis actually count the votes. This will subtly fuel the discontent in Iran…

Oh my goodness. Do you think the SOB ever actually reads the news from Iraq where, as we know, Ahmed Chalabi’s extremely anti-democratic “Justice and Accountability Commission” intervened on Saturday to suddenly, on the eve of the election, disqualify 55 candidates– additional to the hundreds it had already disqualified, earlier on during the election campaign?
Chalabi is far from being a neutral figure in the election, since he’s running as a member of the Iraqi National Alliance, the Iran-backed list of mainly Shiite politicians.
So those 55 suddenly banned candidates– all of whom were affiliated with other blocs, mainly the Iraqiyya bloc headed by Ayad Allawi– still had their names on the ballots on Sunday; and thus not only were they subjected to last-minute banning, but in addition everyone who voted for them suddenly had their votes rendered essentially meaningless.
As the WaPo’s Ernesto London and Leila Fadel report from Baghdad today,

    If the votes for the newly barred candidates are annulled, it could give the Iraqiya coalition powerful ammunition to allege vote-rigging by rival politicians, including some in the Shiite-led camp of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
    “It will be a very violent reaction,” Allawi said in an interview Tuesday. “A lot of violence will take place, and God knows how this will end. I will tell you there is already an existing feeling that there was widespread rigging and widespread intimidation.”

And it’s not just those 55 suddenly-banned candidates and those who voted for them who’re at risk of having their political rights suddenly stripped from them. Londono and Fadel report that,

    Faraj al-Haidary, chairman of Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, said Tuesday night that … under Iraqi law, the Justice and Accountability Commission could theoretically bar more candidates in the days ahead if it submits paperwork before the electoral board certifies them as lawmakers.

Ah, but my friend Tom, sitting in Bethesda, can assure us that Iraqis “get to vote for whomever they want”?
The WaPo journos also write about our friend the Iraq specialist Reidar Visser that he,

    said the last-minute disqualification of candidates poses significant challenges for the electoral commission. Because Iraqis were able to choose individual candidates in the elections — as opposed to voting for slates that distribute the seats — disqualifying elected candidates could enrage voters.
    “This could create a major problem for the whole process,” Visser said. “We have seen that there is no legal framework to deal with these eventualities, so they’re creating the framework as they proceed.”

So the post-election period in Iraq this time might well be– just as it was after the last national election, in December 2005– very messy, long-drawn-out and quite possibly even, as Allawi warned, violent.
So please let’s not sing any paens to the triumph of “democracy” in Iraq yet. (As Newsweek did last week, and as far too many other stalwarts of the US MSM seem to have been doing this week, too.)
George Bush’s hastily cobbled-together, back-up main “justification” for invading Iraq in 2003, remember, was– once he finally realized the “WMD justification” was a crock of nonsense– that the US occupation liberation of Iraq would usher in a new era of democratic, accountable, and successful government that would immediately become a model for the striving peoples of the whole of the rest of the region…
(Kind of like what the SOB was still arguing in his mendacious piece today.)
But in the aftermath of Iraq’s December 2005 election, the country was plunged into deeper sectarianism and social collapse than it had ever before experienced, and for roughly 18 months thereafter the violence and heartbreak continued unabated, sending streams of extremely distressed Iraqis fleeing for their lives.
Electoral “democracy”, it turned out, was not a “model” that anyone anywhere else in the region wanted to emulate, at all. (In the OPTs, interestingly, all the major political forces did continue with their plans to hold an OPTs-wide parliamentary election just six weeks after that Iraqi election, in January 2006. Washington’s ferocious response to the results of that election gave the lie to any lingering idea anyone might have had that George W. Bush really did have any gut sympathy for the norms and principles of democratic self-governance… )
And, contra to what the SOB is now telling us, I certainly don’t think anyone in the Middle East, whether Iranians, Arabs, Turks, Israelis, or anyone else, is sitting on the edge of their chairs thinking that the 2010 election in Iraq is going to usher in a fabulous period of successful, democratic self-governance in Iraq. The most that anyone is able to hope for, really, is that despite the machinations of Ahmed Chalabi and his gang– the ones who got us into the war and occupation in the first place, remember, along with Bush and Cheney– Iraq’s conflict-battered people may somehow find a governance system that works for them and allows them to rebuild a society that has been torn apart by two decades, now, of extremely vindictive, lethal, politicidal, and arrogant western policy toward their country.
How Iraq’s citizenry decide to govern themselves is completely up to them. For Tom Friedman or anyone else to claim they know what should happen is imperialist arrogance of the most outdated and destructive kind.

Tragic endgame for the U.S. in Iraq

Most Iraqi voters will go to the polls Sunday. As so often, Reidar Visser has been doing the best, most systematic, and well-informed reporting on the important political developments of these days. The picture he paints (1, 2, 3) is troubling indeed.
He notes that the big issue in the election is still “Debaathification”, that is, continuing to pore over the extremely divisive and painful issues of the past rather than looking to the future…
Not surprising, maybe, since the present and immediate future both look fairly grim. But certainly, given both the worrying political news, as described by Visser– and by Raed Jarrar, see below– and the continuing large-scale security breaches, the situation in pre-election Iraq seems very far from the rosy picture given in this latest big Newsweek article.
Why on earth have the Newsweek people been doing this? This article includes this:

    The elections to be held in Iraq on March 7 feature 6,100 parliamentary candidates from all of the country’s major sects and many different parties. They have wildly conflicting interests and ambitions. Yet in the past couple of years, these politicians have come to see themselves as part of the same club, where hardball political debate has supplanted civil war and legislation is hammered out, however slowly and painfully, through compromises—not dictatorial decrees or, for that matter, the executive fiats of U.S. occupiers. Although protected, encouraged, and sometimes tutored by Washington, Iraq’s political class is now shaping its own system—what Gen. David Petraeus calls “Iraqracy.” With luck, the politics will bolster the institutions through which true democracy thrives.

Some of this is just flat-out wrong. The decrees of the “Debaathification Commission”, which prohibited many of the candidates from participating, were nothing if not “dictatorial”.
But the whole upbeat tone of the report was also highly misleading. The cover of the U.S. edition of Newsweek even featured– apparently without any irony– that famous photo of George W. Bush strutting across the aircraft carrier with the big banner stating “Mission Accomplished” behind him. Why do they feel they need to do this, nearly seven years after Bush’s launching of that infamous, damaging war?
The only possible reason I can think of is that the editors there are eager to get Americans into a more feel-good mood about war in general…. just in time for the next one…
But as analysis, it’s disgraceful.
You’ll find much better analysis from Ra’ed Jarrar, here, at Truthout.
He writes this:

    The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) is fully controlled by members of the current five ruling parties. Thus, many Iraqis, especially from opposition parties, don’t believe the IHEC is fair and balanced.
    What adds complication to the already tense situation is that only a few hundred international monitors are participating in these elections, and many of them have not been there long enough to monitor the preparations and set-up process. For example, most US organizations that have sent international monitors to Iraq’s past elections are not sending any at this time -some of them due to a lack of funds, others because of the lack of interest and security concerns. Last month, 28 US Congress members, including the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and two chairmen of his subcommittees, sent a letter to President Obama asking him to pay more attention to the Iraqi elections. The letter urged Obama to “allocate emergency funds for US NGOs and encourage them to go to Iraq to observe the election,” but the White House does not seem to have considered that appeal.
    In addition to the absence of international monitors and lack of IHEC credibility, rumors about the impending theft of elections have been creating an atmosphere where the slightest claim of fraud might lead to Iranian-style post-election unrest.
    … Even if this election proves to be inclusive, fair and transparent, there are other threats to a peaceful transition of power to the upcoming democratically elected government. The Iraqi armed forces continue to be infiltrated by militias and controlled by the current ruling parties.
    … There is a high probability that Iraq will face a political meltdown after these elections. There is also the possibility, if al-Iraqiya wins the elections, that ISCI and other ruling parties backed by the Iranian government might stage a military coup. Most Iraqis would agree that the upcoming months will most probably bear a lot of bad news.
    However, for the US, this should not affect withdrawal plans. There are two approaching deadlines for the US withdrawal from Iraq: President Obama’s plan to withdraw all combat forces and end combat operations by August 31 of this year and the US-Iraq bilateral security agreement’s deadline for all troops to withdraw by December 31, 2011.
    … The situation in Iraq is horrible, and it will most likely deteriorate further this year, but that should not be used as an excuse to delay or cancel the US withdrawal from the country. Prolonging the occupation will not fix what the occupation has broken, and extending the US military intervention will not help protect Iraq from other interventions. The only way we can help Iraq and Iraqis is to first withdraw from the country, and then do our best to help them help themselves – without interfering in their domestic issues.