The first ever experience of conducting an open-list system in the national elections was endorsed by people and policy makers as to improve the representation of the people in the parliament. Open-list basis gave people the free choice of their votes to be tallied either to an individual candidate plus the list or only the list.
After the March 7th national elections in Iraq, all anticipations were pointing to al-Maliki’s bloc, State of Law Alliance (SLA), to take precedence over other blocs especially the two rivalries, the Iraqi National Alliance and Iraqiya. The initial indications of the first primary results also gave signals of SLA taking the lead in far distance from all other runners of the parliamentary race. Loud voices with slight allegations of fraud came up by the Iraqiya bloc. Notwithstanding, when the partial results of the vote counting began to exceed the 50% counting, the surprising results appeared to bring al-Iraqiya, headed by former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, to the lead and pushing SLA to the second row in the race. This shuffling of the blocs rows caused a jolt among the political society in Baghdad. As results releases of voting counting by the IHEC continued, the situation in Baghdad embarked to flaring and the country seemed to be driven into a dilemma. Unofficial final results confirmed Iraqiya first with 91 parliament seats, SLA second with 89 seats, and INA third with beyond expectations number of 70 seats. With the announcement of the final results of 100% counting for the election votes, the tension heated and fraud claims intensified, this time by the SLA, with reports of irregularities. The results were just too far to tolerate based on the given realities then by the running blocs. SLA was to nominate the first runner in 2010 elections based on the year-long indicators, provincial elections in early 2009, publicity of its head, incumbent Prime Minister al-Maliki who himself won over 600,000 votes in Baghdad and being the first candidate, and pre-elections polls in addition to the inconspicuous dubious release dates of the preliminary results of vote counting by IHEC, which questioned the election credibility and manipulations of people’s votes.
The long talked about fraud claims started to take serious shapes as SLA resorted to the legal channels to file its accusations of a systematic fraud conducted for the interest of certain bloc/s, Iraqiya apparently, and probably INA. The allegations eventually path to the Iraq’s Electoral Judicial Commission of three-judge panel, which ordered last month to manually recount the ballot boxes in Baghdad.
Amid all these ups and downs since January this year, Iraq has been approaching a new crisis starting with delaying the election day, the Justice and Accountability Commission’s (JAC) act to disqualify a number of running candidates for allegations of their ties to Baath Party, till the electoral judicial commission’s approval of manual recounting and ending with post-elections alliances to government formation and certain regional countries’ influences in shaping such alliances. This have had crumbled the nascent experience of democracy in Iraq, and thus would reinforce the non-endorsement of democracy in the region. Iraq’s democracy and choice-freedom of ruling representation would reflect, in the regional perspectives, the model of violence, individual-interests, trauma, and deadlocks in state building.
Hypothesis & Scenario of government formation: Al-Maliki were to win the 2010 elections
The key part to profoundly examine and transparently unveil is the post-elections coalitions to form the government. This part has two sides: the regional influence, and parties’ backgrounds. Here we would talk about what if al-Maliki took the lead in the ballot votes of 2010. Winning the ballots would regain the power for a second term (by the same person, i.e. al-Maliki), and thus ruling the country for at least another four years (i.e. al-Dawa Party). This victory would give al-Islamic Dawa Party, headed by al-Maliki, the asset of being the only individual political party in Iraq which won the poll with the largest shares of votes. However, this asset is still an undeniable award for al-Dawa in the Iraqi political arena. The March 7th polls reasserted the publicity of al-Maliki’s bloc and its broad basis among Iraqis in the popular vote, which was hinted for in the 2009 provincial elections. The slight margin of two-seat win of Allawi could not break this basis of al-Maliki’s bloc especially the latter dominance in the seven rich natural-resource provinces of south Iraq.
The hypothesized win of al-Maliki in the March 7th poll would have given a workable scenario and a readable reality for the next coming government of Iraq. The State of Law, led by al-Maliki, would pursue in the track to power as well as its publicity. Furthermore, the SLA would have added another asset to its account. Winning recent national elections could have maintained the self-confidence of SLA of independence from the shia-background political blocs combined once under the big umbrella of the Unified Iraqi Alliance (UIA) in 2005. The self-confidence concluded in a bold decision to run the last 2009 provincial elections individually and split in a name for al-Dawa political list, i.e. State of Law Alliance. This split from UIA sent few signals of differences or even disagreements, which had been speculated upon for some time till it reached to officially-announced separation of the Shia blocs into several ones, and drawn the initial cloudy image of forming non-sectarian political blocs. Independence from the Shia umbrella opened new horizons, especially for SLA, and channels of communication with their once-being opponents and parties of different political lines despite the charges of betrayals, unfaithfulness to the Shia issue or autocracy obsession, which all were loudly voiced and heard after the SLA landslide victory of the 2009 provincial elections.
The workable scenario to form the new government of Iraq would have been an outcome of alliance between SLA, led by current Prime Minister al-Maliki, and Iraqiya, led by former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Such alliance would have offered more advantages than anticipated. The first score for the alliance of SLA and Iraqiya would have been calculated by pushing the two other players: the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) and the Kurds, away off the stage of Iraq politics and of their acting roles as kingmakers. The Kurds have been always playing as kingmakers since the overthrow of Saddam’s regime in 2003. They are indispensable in the big-heads alliances of government formation. They combined about 43 seats for the new Council of Representatives (COR) in the recent national elections. Notwithstanding, the overwhelming winning share of votes with 70 seats in the next Iraqi parliament, composed of 325 seats, INA is born to be the new Kingmaker, composed of Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), National Reform Trend, Virtue Party (Fadhela), National Congress Party and others, in the Iraqi politics. Sadrists or al-Sadr followers, on the other hand, have just emerged as a political entity which previously used to be a group of militia followers of the Shia young cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, who resides in Iran as a safe haven after being charged with acts of his followers that agitated the situation in some cities, e.g. Sadr City, Basra, in Iraq and were almost pulling the country into a civil-war status. Sadrists, force themselves and their Movement as a political bloc of a powerful status within INA as they won about 40 seats out of the 70 counted for INA as a whole. Therefore, Sadrists are the power or the decision-maker of the new kingmaker; they became the dynamics of INA that builds any government. In fact, the conduct of any other scenario than alliance with INA, the bonus kingmaker over Kurds, would give undue clout to smaller parties, and let such alliance very fragmented. So, with the far possibility of joining, either blocs of al-Maliki (89 seats) or Allawi (91 seats) desperately need a coalition with INA (70 seats) to form the largest parliamentary bloc and reach the constitutionally required number of seats in the COR, which is 163 out of the 325 seats. The Kurds would eventually join any big bloc that would form the government.
Region influence & post-election alliances
Another point in the scope of post-election alliances and government formation is the role of the regional countries in drawing the map of Iraq politics. Certain countries and next-door neighbors to Iraq have been playing an active persistent role in shaping the new government, namely Iran and Saudi Arabia. It has been seen that the Sunni bloc, Allawi’s, was continuously heading to Saudi Arabia for talks upon government formation purposes. At the same time, Shia bloc, INA, has several meetings in Iran for the same purpose as Allawi’s. As known by sectarian religious background, Saudi Arabia would endorse any coalition that gives the power back to Sunnis in Iraq because it is a remarkable country in the region of very radical Sunni teachings. On the other hand, Iran, also a remarkable country in the region with Shia approach, is willing to welcome alliances of Shia blocs to establish another Shia power in the region and the new oil-rich Iraq. In addition, Saudi Arabia is Pro-US while Iran is Anti-US in the region. There were also some maneuvers by both blocs of Iraqiya and INA to visit other regional countries. Surprisingly, INA took the initiative to head to Saudi Arabia for the same-purpose talks to, possibly, take away the perceptions that the bloc is sect-driven with strong ties to Iran, and to allegedly boost the ties with Saudi Arabia. Ammar al-Hakim, the head of ISCI, and a delegation from the Sadrists met with high officials of Saudi Arabia. The same step was taken by Iraqiya, but this time heading to Iran by its negotiation committee head, Rafia al-Isawi.
Domination vs. Submissiveness
The trips to Suadi Arabia and Iran conveyed two messages. The first message is that the contest is not about the rivals or opponents inside Iraq to control power and rule the country. Rather, the contest is about the dominance in the region, and which country proves its powerful place to mediate, draw governance maps, and endorse new-born experiences in the regional politics. Therefore, the race to Saudi Arabia and Iran was driven the motif of manipulating deliberate domination of these countries and the passive illusive submissiveness of the Iraqi political blocs.
Another factor is the US foreign policy towards the Middle East. The historical ties between the US and Saudi Arabia with making the latter a strong ally in the region for the former, and the economic interest in the petroleum-rich country made it awarded with the US endorsement. Whereas the critical relation between Iran and the US especially the recent increasingly intensified tension and the US mobilizing the international community to approve sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program motivated Iran to use the Shia-blocs as a vehicle in its encounter with the US. Consequently, these two different arrays of two remarkable regional countries’ relation with the US shaped the trend of the political track in Iraq. In other words, the rally to win those two countries’ approval or endorsement for the post-election alliances to form the new government of Iraq is not for the sake of an Iraqi issue; it is logically interpreted as the rally of the region to win dominance by one way or another. And what Iraqi politicians’ trips to those countries is nothing but signs of victim preys begging for their hunter’s unknown mercy hand, which might be a knockdown or giving life with disabilities! Integrated in the region could have been performed through broader prospects and included larger number of countries in the region, and in a stage when Iraq has its own independent government and stable ruling framework with a solid foreign policy towards the region. This step by Iraqi politicians reflected not but illusion. The regional countries proved but bias support to form a government on the basis of faction. In fact the region cannot offer a coherent structure of homogenous government unless all parties, blocs and factions agree and tolerate to each other’s role in the process.
The sincere good-intention alliance
At last, SLA and INA came to an agreement to merge in one alliance to be the biggest bloc in the council of representatives. This parliamentary bloc would be, as legally-interpreted, constitutionally able to form the new government, basically naming the premiership. After long maneuvers by INA that stalled the government formation through their bizarre acts of: sporadic talks with SLA, travelling to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan after talks with SLA, opening channels with Iraqiya, conducting a referendum to select one out of five nominees for the post of PM, proposal to have a round table that bring all political factions together, going back to Iran, then pursuing the talks with SLA. This emergence of alliance of the two Shia blocs had not been applauded or welcoming reactions as before by the public in the country, at least the Shia majority population. Rather, it was received as a decoded message for “Iran won, Saudi Arabia lost”. The rally or strife of Iran and Saudi Arabia to give power to their factional allies in Iraq returned all the process to square one. Actually, it succeeded to bring the Shia together again and pushed the so-called national bloc of Iraqiya to their base of secular Sunni gathering. So, the long intransigence of separatism from the sectarian engagement could not resist the policy of the outside interference in shaping Iraq’s ruling regime. Despite the differences between INA and SLA in ideologies and visions in ruling the state, they were questionably brought into one bloc of post-election alliances. However, the resolution of the PM nomination is still pending and waiting be settled, in the next couple weeks, hopefully. Rumors say that SLA paid the price for this alliance by not nominating al-Maliki for a second term as the Prime Minister. Sadrists, of course, welcome such rumors for the deep-rooted enmity with al-Maliki who used forces to destroy their militia of al-Mahdi Army. Therefore, they would do anything to have him shunned and pushed away from the post of Prime Minister. Well, this is not a surprise neither for the SLA nor the public as such kind of deals, manipulations, playing games and plots and different approaches against and which created a rift for SLA. Al-Maliki was said to give concessions for achieving this alliance with INA. Such concession were more for the interest of INA than SLA; it was heard that al-Maliki promised to release all al-Sadr militia detained as outlaws in jails, waive his interest in the premiership’s post, and granting INA privileges in the government. Thus it was reportedly rumored that a 10-person committee is agreed upon by both SLA and INA to choose the candidate for the Prime Minister’s post, and that this candidate should win 80% of this committee’s votes.
“Iraq still adrift, Politicians wrangle and the nerve of people jangle”, The Economist.
Nevertheless, the big parliamentary bloc could be reached, although still four-seat short of the 325 majority seats, Iraq’s politics seems to revolve around a vicious circle. The two candidates who won the most votes of any politician in the March 7th elections look close to push away from premiership. If INA, Sadrists in particular, would keep the veto on al-Maliki candidacy, then Mr. al-Maliki would a politician in the government or the parliament, but definitely not the leader of the government. So is the same happens with Mr. Allawi if his list, Iraqiya, is ousted from the government-formation alliance.
The scenario hints for a burlesque game played against the two most popular candidates. Neither al-Maliki, with his own gain of over 600,000 votes in capital Baghdad, nor Allawi, with his list’s plurality winning and taking the lead in the national elections, would be eligible to celebrate their inauguration to serve as a Prime Minister. Is it a sarcasm or conspiracy against the two?
In either case, the atmosphere in Iraq portrays unoptimistic four years. The government formation will be built on contradictive inhomogeneous structure of two-inconsistent players’ alliance and marginalizing a third major player. This scene would keep the country fragile and democracy experience vulnerable to collapse in Iraq as it relies on forced-allies rather than common-ideology allies. This threatens all the state dimensions: security situation, political course, investment and economic development, integration into the international community and the goal achievements of national reconciliation and national reintegration.
Is it a power-monopoly or power-sharing race?The next four years would give answers to this question, and people have to grade a result in casting their votes in another national elections term.
Alliance with INA would make SLA position weaker than 2005 as the rift between them grew bigger and deeper. Therefore, any preservations, observations, criticism, or contradiction of the objective policy would be very difficult to discuss in harmony or reveal on surface. This conclusion of the possible difficulties in addressing differences in the alliance derives from the solid powerful common basis. However, the two blocs have very little in common in terms of ideology, political agenda and governing policy. This basis is their sect as Shia, which would let their reaction moves, especially SLA’s, be in compliance with and obedient to their religious authority “Marji’iya” either in Najaf or Iran to keep the Shia unified and non-adversarial. In addition, this alliance might work as restricting zone for SLA’s gains. With the popularity that SLA achieved, not only in Iraq, but on the international scope, SLA could attract the world’s leading entities’ respect and applause for the efforts in Iraq’s security, national reconciliation, openness on the previous opponents and normalizing Iraq within its surrounding and the world. Such achievements added strong assets for SLA as proved with the backed-by position of the United Nations, the US Administration, the European Union and Arab League to al-Maliki’s government. This is in addition to the ousting of Mr. al-Maliki from serving for a second term as a Prime Minister.
However, alliance with Iraqiya would bring more than calculated values to the account of SLA. It would reflect a genuine image of SLA’s non-sectarian agenda and national unity. That would strengthen Mr. al-Maliki’s position and popularity. In fact, it would serves as win card for the political game. Negotiations would have been easier for SLA with Iraqiya than with INA as they do not have that sect background that makes them shy to reveal the other bloc’s faults in running the government as it would be the case in alliance with INA. Also, compromises and power sharing might be quicker agreed upon between SLA and Iraqiya. Al-Maliki would still have the chance to run for a premiership’s post. SLA could have seized this opportunity to offer Allawi one of the most prestigious positions in the state: the President of Iraq, or the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which both act as powerful and respectful as the Prime Minister. These two positions do not have to be reserved for the Kurds any more as they are not constitutionally-based doctrine for the Kurds. Rather, the Kurds have been so clever and cunning to reserve these two representing positions for themselves. Of course the same compromising deal could be reversed if the two SLA and Iraqiya agreed to designate Allawi Prime Minister and offer al-Maliki one of the two mentioned-above positions: President or Foreign Minister. Further, the alliance of Iraqiya and SLA would put an end to the game of Kingmaker actors. It is true that SLA’s alliance with INA ended the role of the Kurds as kingmaker, but it gave birth to a new very tough-demanding kingmaker, i.e. INA, Moreover, the alliance with Iraqiya would still give a very strong position to SLA in power-sharing strategies and state-ruling policy. SLA would be more courageous and bold to confront with Iraqiya if any faults or pitfalls occurred because they have no sect-basis in common.
SLA + INA SLA + Iraqiya
Tough demands by INA Compromising demands by Iraqiya
SLA’s loss of premiership SLA’s double-edged win
SLA’s position: Submissive SLA’s position: Decision-Maker
Ethno-Sectarian alliance National-Unity alliance
Closed ambience from region& international Open ambience to region& international
Skepticism & unfaithfulness fears Confidence-building & allying motif
Recurrence to incompetence Proceeding to competence & good governance
Monopoly of resources Sharing of resources
Bias ruling Tolerance ruling
Short-term interest relation Long-term interest relation
Separatism is unrepairable Separatism is corrigible
Endorsement of one regional state Endorsement of region, US, UN, & EU
Iraq is a threat source: militia ruling Iraq is a normal state: parties ruling
Indifferent administration Accountable administration
Unguaranteed pledges to militia’s return: Guaranteed pledges (Int’l. patronage) to criminal
US foreign policy towards the Middle EastAmid all this amorphous unpredictable condition of Iraq, the US is compelled to review its policy in the region. Apparently the US has historical ties and good allies in the Middle East in addition to its interests in the region. With the Iraq-war, economic crisis, and shortage of the world energy sources, the Middle East still represents the safe harbor with its energy-rich inexhaustible resources. However, the Middle East fares the US with its peace and stability course in two prominent areas: Palestine-Israel conflict, and Iran nuclear program.
To tackle these issues and maintain the interests in the region, the US needs to keep the balance in its foreign policy towards it. It is necessary to look at the scale and see what its two pans have to measure the consequences right and convenient to all’s interests. It is nevertheless a hard choice that requires a bold decision, and probably out-of-familiar regularities of the US foreign policy. Even though, the US has to pick one pan of the scale, which it obviously did. The US has clearly mobilized the international efforts against Iran’s program, which means that the US has chose its long-term ally, Saudi Arabia. In conclusion of this, the petroleum ally wins beats up the nuclear ally.
Now, the questions remain to pose: Does Iraq need to be the arena where the strife over power in the region takes place? Should Iraq be the spot for the success of the US foreign policy towards the Middle East?
Then the answers should come all to the sake of the Iraq’s good. The US has commitments for Iraq through the Strategic Framework Agreement and through what its administration confirmed to assist Iraq. The best way to reach success of Iraq’s new experience and have its politics workable for all its diverse dimensions is to keep the focus of its politicians’ efforts inside it, not seeking delusive promises or instructions from the regional two-feuding powers. Iraq has given some signs of non-sectarianism and started to dig paths towards the national unity before March 7th election results. But, unfortunately it pulled back to the sectarian, individual-interest, narrow representation status of 2005.