Last July, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the American people “it is perhaps a measure of our success in Iraq that politics have come to the country.” No where is that more evident than in the ongoing vote count from the March 7 parliamentary elections. With 95 percent of the ballots tallied, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi narrowly leads the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, by about 11,000 votes out of 12 million votes cast. Election officials said the results of a 100 percent preliminary count would be made public on Friday.
There were rumblings last summer among senior American officials that Maliki could lose but the talk never amounted to much. After all, he has a strong following and has been credited with the drop in violence. On a campaign swing at Laith’s café in Baghdad in March of 2009, owner Laith Hammoudi al Amiri gave out cups of Turkish coffee and spoke passionately about the prime minister, describing him as the “hero” who had brought peace back to the city. Another customer said, “As long as Maliki is here, we’re going to be in good shape.” According to McClatchy Newspapers, “Maliki is the leader who stood up to fellow Shiites — followers of the militant cleric Muqtada al Sadr — in order to quash militia violence and impose a semblance of order on his anarchic, long-suffering nation.”
The question now is, Could Maliki lose? He, along with Iraq’s Kurdish President, Jalal Talabani, has now called for a manual recount to ensure the country’s stability and the legitimacy of the election. In a written statement, the prime minister suggests this step is necessary “to prevent the country from slipping to the return of violence which was vanquished only after much pain and blood.” However, the head of the election commission has rejected such a call. In an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) writes that “unlike recent years, this Iraqi fight for power is waged not through murder and oppression but argument and compromise. Democracy has come to Iraq.”
Prime Minister Al-Maliki has led Iraq since June of 2006 and President Bush never wavered in his support of the leader. During a meeting in Jordan in November of 2006, Bush took Maliki aside and told him “I am prepared to send tens of thousands of more troops here, and I need your cooperation, I need your endorsement of this idea.” Two years later, Maliki heaped praise on Bush. “You have stood by Iraq and the Iraqi people for a very long time,” he said. In July of 2009, Maliki said, “Iraq will enjoy a solid relationship with a great and strong country like the United States.”
Now, real uncertainty looms over the prime minister’s future as his country’s leader. There is increasing doubt that he’ll be able to hold onto power. “Times of instability become especially dangerous” in Iraq, the Associated Press warned. Let’s hope things are different this election round.
Scott Sadler is an experienced communicator with an in-depth expertise with crisis communications who has served in senior level positions in the federal government, Capitol Hill, and in a military theater of operation.