The Post-Election Struggle in Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn
Counterpunch: April 6, 2010
Iraqis went to the polls on 7 March to choose a 325-member parliament to
replace the one elected in 2005. The results have only recently been
announced and are being challenged by the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It
is expected to take four or five months to produce a new government and
violence has not diminished. Bombings in Baghdad on Sunday killed 41 people
and wounded a further 437.
The election was closely monitored by Iraqi and foreign observers and
accepted by the UN as reflecting the will of the voters. Allegations of
fraud have more to do with some political lists doing unexpectedly badly,
notably that of the Prime Minister. He asked for a recount but his demand is
comical in the eyes of many Iraqis because only Maliki himself had the
means of fixing the election by using the security forces, the bureaucracy
and government funds.
His State of Law bloc won 89 seats and former prime minister Iyad Allawi's
Iraqiya coalition 91 seats, a lead which gives Allawi the right to be the
first to try to form a government. What is unfair is the arrest of Iraqiya
members of parliament by police and military units loyal to Maliki. There
is also an effort to ban successful candidates because they once belonged to
Saddam Hussein's Baath party.
It is not clear yet how far this attempt to fix the election ex-post facto
will go. But Allawi's supporters, mostly from the embattled Sunni Arab
community, might come to think that the election has been stolen, giving it
an incentive to use armed force to destabilize any incoming government in
which it is not adequately represented.
Overall the election is likely to stabilize rather than destabilize Iraq. A
crucial aspect of the poll was that the Sunni Arabs participated massively,
unlike 2005, when they mostly boycotted the polls and took up arms against
the US occupation and the Iraqi government. There is a danger that they
might be marginalized again but it is more likely that this time they will
get a share in power and the spoils of office.
Another important change is that the followers of the Shia cleric Muqtada
al-Sadr, who fought the Americans in bloody battles in Najaf in 2004,
participated enthusiastically and successfully in the election. They have
every incentive to rely on their enhanced political muscle - they won at
least 39 seats - rather than resurrecting their Mehdi Army militia. The
election may not have produced an overall winner, but the four main
coalitions - State of Law, Iraqiya, the Kurds and the Iraqi National
Alliance, combining the Sadrists and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq
(ISCI) - all showed that they have strong support.
Many of the news reports gave a misleading impression of what had happened.
Allawi, interim prime minister in 2004-05, won a plurality. He won the most
seats because the Sunni Arab community voted for him en masse. This gave him
the five Sunni majority provinces north and west of Baghdad. He also did
well in the capital, showing that secular-minded Shia voted for him, though
most Iraqis voted along sectarian or communal lines. His success looked
bigger than it was because in the 2010 election the vote of the Shia, who
make up 60 per cent of the Iraqi population, was split between Maliki and
the Shia religious parties of the INA, which together won at least 159 seats
or close to a majority in parliament.
The most likely outcome of the negotiations now beginning on forming a new
government is that these two Shia parties will combine and seek an alliance
with the Kurds. Allawi's bloc, for all its apparent electoral success, will
have great difficulty finding allies to form a government.
Will Maliki remain PM? Probably not, because the Sadrists and the Kurds, two
partners he will need, do not like him and do not trust him. The Sadrists
blame him for his attack on them in Basra and Baghdad in 2008. The Kurds
resent the hard nationalist line he has taken over territories disputed
between Arab and Kurd and see him as failing to abide by agreements on how
these differences should be resolved.
A condition for Sadrist and Kurdish participation in a new government will
probably be the departure of Maliki, though his political bloc will remain
at the centre of government under a new prime minister.
Sectarianism has got worse because of the election. The purge of former
Baathists was seen by the Sunni as an attack on them. The Shia parties
played up spurious stories of a resurgent Baath party returning to power.
The success of Allawi in northern Iraq came from mobilizing the anti-Kurdish
vote. But Iraqi politics have always tended to run along sectarian and
communal lines. The fears and hatreds stemming from the 2006-07 Sunni-Shia
civil war will take decades to subside. The election may have highlighted
these divisions but it did not create them.
The Kurds suffered a blow because they did less well than they expected in
the disputed territories. But they will be an essential building block in
any new government.
Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states supported Allawi with money. They remain
suspicious of an Iraq dominated by Shia Arabs and Kurds. Iran backed the
Shia parties, notably the INA. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, its
closest ally, did poorly, partly because it is seen as an Iranian pawn, but
the Sadrists did well.
The importance of Iranian influence was underlined by the speed with which
party leaders visited Tehran after the poll. American influence is
diminishing as US troops withdraw and because President Obama does not want
to be dragged into day-to-day tutelage over Iraqi politics.
How does this affect American withdrawal by the end of 2011?
There will be little effect. The withdrawal is taking place under the Status
of Forces Agreement signed by President Bush in 2008. Washington wants to
pull out and Maliki claims it as one of his achievements that the Americans
are going. By the end of August all US combat forces should have gone.
Patrick Cockburn is the the author of "Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia
Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq."
A Bomber Jacket Doesn't Cover the Blood
by Norman Solomon
Common Dreams: March 29, 2010
President Obama has taken a further plunge into the kind of war abyss that
consumed predecessors named Johnson, Nixon and Bush.
On Sunday, during his first presidential trip to Afghanistan, Obama stood
before thousands of American troops to proclaim the sanctity of the war
effort. He played the role deftly -- a commander in chief, rallying the
troops -- while wearing a bomber jacket.
There was something candidly macabre about the decision to wear that leather
jacket, adorned with an American Eagle and the words "Air Force One." The
man in the bomber jacket doesn't press the buttons that fire the missiles
and drop the warheads, but he gives the orders that make it all possible.
One way or another, we're used to seeing presidents display such tacit
accouterments of carnage.
And the president's words were also eerily familiar: with their cadence and
confidence in the efficacy of mass violence, when provided by the Pentagon
and meted out by a military so technologically supreme that dissociation can
masquerade as ultimate erudition -- so powerful and so sophisticated that
orders stay light years away from human consequences.
The war becomes its own rationale for continuing: to go on because it must
A grisly counterpoint to Obama's brief Afghanistan visit is a day in
1966 when another president, in the midst of escalating another war, also
took a long ride on Air Force One to laud and boost the troops.
In South Vietnam, at Cam Ranh Bay, President Johnson told the American
soldiers: "Be sure to come home with that coonskin on the wall."
Then, too, thousands of soldiers responded to the president's exhortations
by whooping it up. And then, too, the media coverage was upbeat.
In a cover story, Life quoted a corporal who called Johnson's visit the
"best morale booster Cam Ranh's ever had."
The magazine piece, written by an eminent journalist of the era, Shana
Alexander, went on: "Certainly the corporal was right and so was [White
House press secretary Bill] Moyers when he later compared the day to a
sermon, in that so much of the real meaning is not in what the preacher says
but in what his listeners hear."
The article concluded that it had been a "wild and quite wonderful day."
Fast forward 44 years.
"There's going to be setbacks," President Obama told the troops at Bagram
Air Base. "We face a determined enemy. But we also know this: The United
States of America does not quit once it starts on something."
The applause line lingered as the next words directly addressed the clapping
troops: "You don't quit, the American armed services does not quit, we keep
at it, we persevere, and together with our partners we will prevail. I am
absolutely confident of that."
The president added: "And we'll be there for you when you come home. It's
why we're improving care for our wounded warriors, especially those with
PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. We're moving forward with the post-9/11
GI Bill so you and your families can pursue your dreams."
Those words provide a kind of freeze frame for basic convolution: The
government will help veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries to
pursue their dreams.
In the realm of careful abstraction, where actual people are rendered
invisible, best not to acknowledge how much better it would be if those
veterans could pursue their dreams without suffering from PTSD and traumatic
brain injuries in the first place.
But such human realities are for private suffering, not public discourse.
The next morning, the front page of the New York Times reported that the
president's visit to Afghanistan "included a boisterous pep rally with
Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His
book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death"
has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent
book is "Made Love, Got War." He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare
NOT Warfare campaign. In California, he is co-chair of the Commission on a
Green New Deal for the North Bay; www.GreenNewDeal.info.