Election drama unfolds in Baghdad

Scott Sadler Contributor
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The developments in Iraq over the past 60 hours have been anything but dull. It’s always amazing what an election can do. The results, announced Friday night, have thrown the country into a state of disarray. It’s true that former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi garnered the most votes in the Parliament but the current Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is pulling out all of the stops to make sure Allawi doesn’t get first digs at forming a government.

It’s a chapter right out of our own American history and it’s replaying in Baghdad. The results showed that Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition won 2,851,823 votes, to 2,797,624 for Maliki and 2,095,354 for the Shiite alliance, the Iraqi National Alliance. The Kurdistan Alliance took 1,686,344 votes. According to The New York Times, “with Allawi winning not only the most seats in Parliament, but also the most popular votes, there could be widespread dissatisfaction among Iraqis if Maliki is given the first opportunity to form a government.” Sound familiar? The Associated Press offers their own assessment: “Allawi’s victory would not have been possible without at least some support from the country’s Shiite majority, and he got it.”

This isn’t stopping Maliki from contesting the results. A spokesman for the Prime Minister said, “There are two options in front of us. The first, to continue the challenge in a legal and constitutional way and the second is to continue demanding the manual recount.” It is also reported that representatives of State of Law (Maliki’s alliance) and the Sadrists traveled to Iran on Friday to meet with Muqtada al-Sadr himself in hopes of forming a coalition. The two combined would hold 159 seats, close to the majority needed to form a government.

For his part, Allawi seemed to be looking ahead as he begins the task of forming a government. “The Iraqiya list’s decision is to be open to all powers starting from the State of Law headed by the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. We will not exclude anyone. Our coalition is open to all. Iraq does not belong to anyone or any party but it belongs to all Iraqis.” The Washington Post suspects he’ll “almost certainly have to make overtures to predominantly Shiite Iran, which is more influential in Iraqi politics than the United States.”

Allawi is definitely saying all of the right things. “On this occasion, I’d like to congratulate the Iraqi people and extend the hand of friendship to all neighboring and world countries,” he said. “The win catapults Allawi back to prominence after years in political wilderness here,” says The Wall Street Journal.

One Iraqi voter sees the results of the elections as “the last nail in the coffin of terrorism, which spread destruction in the land throughout the past years of the occupation. I call on our new parliamentarians to speed up the formation of a national government and to start the actual building of the country, and to put services and construction in the forefront.”

Maliki, are you listening? It is also interesting to report that, according to The New York Times, “on the day before the vote results were announced, the prime minister’s office quietly went to the Supreme Federal Court, Iraq’s highest court, and asked for an interpretation of Article 76, which the court issued speedily — and in Maliki’s favor. The court ruled that the president (Jalal Talabani) would choose not the leader of the voting bloc with the highest number of seats when the results are ratified, but the leader with the most seats after the new parliament is seated.”

That means the political wrangling will continue for the foreseeable future. “There’s no way of telling who is going to wind up in the prime minister’s chair,” said former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Some experts are warning it could be July before a government is formed. So, what does this suggest for the U.S. troop withdrawal? For now, it means nothing. We’re still on track to draw down to 50,000 Soldiers by Sept. 1, 2010, as “Operation New Dawn” is ushered in.

This brings up another significant point. There have been a couple of violent incidents since the election results were announced though nothing major. One such episode took place when bombs killed five people on Sunday near the home of a Sunni candidate in the town of Qaim. The candidate himself, who ran in this month’s parliamentary elections, was not home. Does this mean a possible return to sectarian warfare? I’ve said all along no, however, this week will begin to tell the story. The next few days will be critical for Iraq. One senior official told me on Sunday following their return trip home from the elections that “Iraq was better. The leaders can try to rally the street, but the street is sick of war and dying. They are tired.” Those words give pause to an incredibly fluid situation. Let’s hope they ring true for there’s too much at stake to turn back the clock.

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.