The first results for the December 15 election in occupied Iraq indicate that
the largest block of the 275 seats in the next parliament will be once again held
by the Shiite fundamentalist United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), with most of the remainder
held by other explicitly sectarian formations—the Kurdish Alliance (KA)
and coalitions of Sunni Arab parties.
Based on the partial count released on December 19, the UIA will win 120 to
130 seats on the basis of large votes from Iraq’s majority Shiite Muslim
population. The Kurdish bloc is tipped to win 45 or more seats. In the three
northern, predominantly Kurdish provinces, the KA won over 80 percent of the
The Iraqi Accordance Front, a coalition centred on the Iraqi Islamic Party,
won 19 percent of the vote in Baghdad and over 50 percent in central provinces
with a majority Sunni population. The front is tacitly supported by the Association
of Muslim Scholars (AMS), an umbrella organisation of several thousand Sunni
clerics. A secular Sunni coalition made up of sympathisers of Saddam Hussein’s
Baath Party gained a smaller vote. Overall, the Sunni parties may win up to
Some 20 seats appear to have been won by an array of smaller parties, including
a Kurdish Islamic movement, regional and tribal-based groups, ethnic Turkomen
organisations and Christian associations.
The parties most associated with the US invasion of Iraq were repudiated by
the Iraqi people. Despite blanket media promotion, the Iraqi National List of
Iyad Allawi secured just 12 to 14 percent of the vote and is expected to win
only about 30 seats. Allawi, a longtime CIA asset, was installed as the first
interim prime minister of Iraq in June 2004. Among masses of Iraqis, he is viewed
as an American-backed thug who endorsed the ensuing US military assaults on
the Shiite city of Najaf and the Sunni city of Fallujah.
The other US favourite, the Iraqi National Congress (INC) of Ahmed Chalabi,
appears to have won less than one percent of the vote and will hold few if any
seats. Chalabi has been on Washington’s payroll since the first Gulf War
in 1990-1991. In 2004, he was pushed aside when he insisted on continuing a
Baathist purge when the US military was seeking to recruit members of the previous
regime. While he returned to favour in Washington later that year, he is despised
by the Iraqi people. On December 18, Newsday referred to Chalabi as the “dark-horse
candidate” for prime minister, but added that “many Iraqis regard
him as a carpetbagger”.
The composition of the next Iraqi government will not, however, be
primarily determined by the votes that were cast on December 15. Rather, the
regime in Baghdad will be decided by dealing-making and US arm-twisting to ensure
that its leading figures implement Washington’s demands. Above all, US
plans involve opening up the Iraqi oil industry to foreign investors, crushing
the anti-occupation insurgency and establishing permanent American military
bases to extend US influence more broadly in the Middle East.
The clearest indication that the Bush administration intends to firmly put
its stamp on the next puppet regime was the unannounced arrival of Vice President
Dick Cheney in Iraq on December 18, just days after the election. Before even
informing Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari that he was in the country,
Cheney held hour-long talks with American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and senior
military commanders. Jaafari and current Iraqi president, Kurdish leader Jalal
Talabani, were then summoned to US embassy for a meeting with Cheney.
During the campaign, the Bush administration made little attempt to hide its
desire to substantially weaken the influence of the UIA. While the UIA has loyally
collaborated with the US occupation, one of its main components, the Supreme
Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), has close ties with the
Iranian regime. Under conditions where Washington is steadily escalating tensions
with Tehran, SCIRI is not considered a reliable enough ally in what may involve
military action against Iran.
Over the past several months, Washington has taken steps to undermine the UIA
and SCIRI in particular. Above all, the US-led occupation forces have sought
the endorsement of the election by the Sunni Arab elite that dominated under
the former Baathist regime.
Sunnis make up as much as 20 percent of the population and provide the main
popular backing for the armed anti-US resistance. They overwhelmingly boycotted
the January 30 vote, assisting the Shiite UIA to win an outright majority in
the parliament. This time the Sunni turnout pushed the UIA share to well below
50 percent. To facilitate this, the US military went as far as withdrawing troops
from the major Sunni city of Ramadi allowing insurgents to organise the ballot.
With masked guerillas guarding polling stations, turnout in the city of 300,000
was estimated at 80 percent.
In the lead-up to the election, the US military also raided Iraqi interior
ministry detention centres in Baghdad where predominantly Sunni prisoners were
being tortured by members of SCIRI’s Badr Organisation militia. Interior
Minister Bayan Jabr is a SCIRI and Badr Organisation leader. The raids were
used by Allawi in particular to try to tarnish SCIRI in the eyes of the Shiite
population and attract support from Sunnis.
On the day of the election, Khalilzad pointedly declared that the next head
of the securities ministry should be “trusted by all communities and not
come from elements of the population that have militias”—an implicit
call for the removal of Jabr and other SCIRI figures. He accused Iran of being
a “predatory state”, seeking to “interfere in Iraqi internal
affairs”, dovetailing with accusations by Sunni politicians that SCIRI
is a fifth column for Tehran. Spelling out Washington’s agenda, Khalilzad
declared: “Since no single party will have a majority there will be a
need for a very broad-based coalition.”
The US machinations have not brought about the desired result, however. Sunnis
overwhelmingly used their vote to express opposition to the foreign military
presence, not to support Allawi. A teacher in Baqubah told the Los Angeles Times:
“The most important issue for me is to get the occupation out.”
A Sunni voter in the town of Al Zubbiah told the BBC: “We’re voting
for the foreign troops to go home.” A grocer interviewed by Associated
Press declared: “Liberation is the most important thing for all Iraqis.
I don’t care if we die of thirst and hunger, as long as the Americans
In the predominantly Shiite-populated southern provinces of Iraq, despite growing
resentment over the catastrophic living conditions that face millions of people,
the UIA won 70 to 95 percent of the vote. Nationally, the Shiite list has won
well over 40 percent of the total. In Baghdad—the most populous province—the
coalition won 1.4 million votes or 59 percent, and at least 30 seats of the
59 seats up for election.
This result in part stems from the participation of the Sadrist movement headed
by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the UIA. In 2004, the Sadrists led an armed uprising
among Shiites against the American military. This year the Sadrist leaders have
used their support among poor working class Shiites to try to lever themselves
into positions of power in the next regime. The Sadrists mobilised a large turnout
for the UIA in the working class suburbs of Baghdad and other cities that are
effectively under the control of Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia and Sadrist-dominated
Representatives of the Sunni parties and Allawi’s list, which appealed
to secular Sunnis and Shiites, have accused the UIA-dominated security forces
and Shiite militias of electoral fraud and voter intimidation. They have alleged
that pro-UIA police in Basra and other southern cities disrupted the campaigning
of other parties and threatened voters as they approached polling stations.
More than 1,000 complaints have been filed with the electoral commission for
In Baghdad, the Sunni parties are alleging outright ballot stuffing to give
the UIA a majority. Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the Iraqi Accordance Front,
warned on December 20: “We will demand that the elections be held again
in Baghdad. If this demand is not met, then we will resort to other measures.”
Whatever the truth of the particular allegations, in the communally charged
atmosphere of the campaign, there was no doubt widespread intimidation and fraud
in many parts of the country.
Deeper quagmire for occupation
The election outcome portends an even deeper quagmire for the US-led occupation.
The Bush administration has consciously stoked up ethnic divisions since the
March 2003 invasion to divert the immense social tensions in a communalist direction.
The next parliament, even more than the previous one, will be made up of three
mutually antagonistic sectarian blocs.
With close to half of the seats, the UIA will effectively be the kingmaker.
Under the US-vetted constitution, next president and two vice-presidents, who
comprise the presidential council responsible for nominating the prime minister,
must be elected by a two-thirds parliamentary vote. As the dominant bloc, the
UIA will be in a position to demand that one of its leaders takes the key post.
The election result also ensures that the controversial constitution drawn
up by Khalilzad, the Kurdish parties and the Shiite bloc, and adopted by referendum
on October 15, cannot be amended without the UIA’s agreement. Any amendments
require two-thirds support in the parliament.
The constitution undermines the central Iraqi state by permitting the establishment
of regional governments with substantial powers over Iraq’s oil and gas
and the right to establish their own internal security forces. In northern Iraq,
the Kurdish elite is pushing to include the oil-rich province of Tamin and the
city of Kirkuk in its de-facto state in northern Iraq. In the south, SCIRI advocates
a regional state that encompasses nine predominantly Shiite provinces, with
close to half the country’s population and as much as 60 percent of its
oil and gas.
The Sunni Arab elite called for a high Sunni turnout hoping to introduce significant
changes to the constitution to strengthen the central government. Instead, Sunnis
face economic marginalisation as well as ongoing repression by the US military
and a Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad. After a brief lull during the election,
the scale of insurgent attacks against American and government targets has begun
Whatever the final election outcome, what is certain is that US ambassador
Khalilzad, who has played a key role in assembling the US puppet state in Afghanistan,
has been tasked by Cheney with fashioning the next government to meet Washington’s
requirements. The gulf between the new regime and the sentiments of masses ordinary
Iraqis will only fuel the existing opposition and armed resistance to the occupation
and broaden its dimensions.