Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Implications of Iraq's Election Results

All of the major papers (NYTimes here, WaPo here, LA Times here, AP here) cover the slim victory of Ayad Allawi's Iraqiyya party according to the (still uncertified) results of a national parliamentary election that by now is three weeks old.  And Reidar Visser provides the numbers (i.e., of seats won by each party, per governorate) here.

The bottom line at this point is that we are far, far away from reaching that bottom line.  Allawi did not win enough votes to form a government on his own, which means he needs to make some deals with other blocs.  This is likely going to take several months.  As a secular Shii Iraqi nationalist (and former Baathist), he owed his success largely to his appeal to the Sunni Arab electorate, who have felt largely disenfranchised ever since the US booted out Saddam's regime and then oversaw the installation of a Shia-dominated government, led since 2006 by the current (and now very disgruntled) prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.  You can be sure that the Shia of southern Iraq (and in the Sadr City section of Baghdad), who were so brutalized under Saddam's regime, are wary of Allawi.  Yet,  if Allawi is to have any hope of success, he will need to bring to his side at least one group with a largely religious Shii orientation, as well as the Kurdish parties of the north.  One possibility for him would be to split off from al-Maliki's mostly Shii State of Law bloc the Sadrist movement of Muqtada al-Sadr, who (like Allawi) is supposedly an Iraqi nationalist who favors a strong central government in Baghdad. Muqtada has a bone to pick with al-Maliki, an erstwhile ally who abandoned him and turned the Iraqi army loose on the Sadrist militias in Basra a few years ago.  On the other hand, Muqtada has spent most of the last few years in Iran, and his links to the Iranian leadership are obvious.  How Allawi (who campaigned on a very anti-Iran stance) deals with that will be interesting.

If Allawi is unable to put together a coalition, then Maliki just may be able to remain in power, but only by cobbling together a coalition that would be predominantly Shii, comprising both his own State of Law party (and remember, he hails from the religious Da'wa party) and the Iraqi National Alliance, which includes the Shii religious party known as the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq (headed by Ammar al-Hakim, like Muqtada al-Sadr, the scion of a prominent  religious Shii lineage) as well as the Sadrists.  Such a bloc coming to power, however, would perpetuate the current Shii dominance (as well as the close ties to Iran) and likely enrage the Sunnis who supported Allawi and who would feel once again left out.

In any event, Iraq is facing what will likely be several months of political violence (note Friday's bombing in Diyala province, which killed more than 40), with Maliki remaining the prime minister of a caretaker government.  Some will blame Maliki for allowing the violence; Maliki will blame Baathist elements (read: Allawi's supporters - i.e., Sunnis) for it; and many will plead for the US to keep its forces in Iraq, even as they move toward the August withdrawal deadline.  Mr. Obama will be under a lot of pressure - as if Mr. Netanyahu was giving him enough headaches already.

Thomas Ricks wrote that the Iraq war may be only halfway over, at best; and the former US ambassador, Ryan Crocker, stated that the most memorable events of the Iraq war hadn't even happened yet.  I fear they may be correct - and that the catastrophe of George W. Bush's (remember him?) "liberation" of Iraq has by no means played itself out.  But as the US pulls out, if Iraq goes further south, you can bet that many on the Republican side of the aisle will start to point the finger at Mr. Obama as the president who "lost Iraq" after Bush's "Surge" had "won" it.

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