As if things couldn’t get any more unsettling in Iraq, word came down this week that the Justice and Accountability Committee is recommending six individuals, elected to parliament in the March 7 elections on the winning ticket of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, be dismissed.
Why? The six are suspected of ties to the Baath Party. What does this mean? Given that Allawi has 91 seats to 89 seats for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, it could change the outcome of the election. Officials say the final decision is up to the courts but already this latest move is drawing widespread criticism and fears this decision could incite sectarian violence. “It could give Maliki the edge again, making it easier for him to claim the right to form Iraq’s new government,” according to the Washington Post. Allawi senses Iran is playing a heavy-handed role behind the scenes to prevent him from becoming the country’s next prime minister. “Iran is interfering quite heavily and this is worrying,” Allawi told the BBC. Things are not all bad for Allawi. We learned on Thursday that a leading Shi’ite Muslim party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, will not join any Iraqi government without him.
To add further twists to the already unstable process, the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is calling for an Iraqi referendum on who will be the next prime minister. The vote is supposed to be carried out today and tomorrow. According to Reuters news agency, “millions of ballots already have been printed” and the vote “will help Sadrists in talks over picking the prime minister.” The New York Times calls it “part political gimmick and part public relations masterstroke.”
Maliki is not backing down in his quest for another term as Iraq’s head. Earlier this week, he scolded the United Nations for not backing his request for a recount. On Wednesday, he implied of “confusion in the election results.” Maliki’s “post-election strategy suggests he is prepared for a long and bitter fight to hold on to power,” according to the Associated Press. He remains defiant but “has talked about legal challenges only … all major participants have acted within the legal framework and have pledged to do so in the future,” according to a Washington Post editorial Tuesday. “We will wait to see what the legal and judicial institutions say about this issue. Everyone should be bound by the decision that will come from them,” Maliki said. The Prime Minister has not been immune to stinging criticism over his latest move. An editorial in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times suggests Maliki “ease up on the gamesmanship and focus instead on building peace and stability in Iraq.”
Allawi is being likened to that of Saddam Hussein. In an interview with the Times on Monday, he dismissed those suggestions. “They know this is not true. They know I fought Saddam and his regime for more than 30 years, more than anyone else in this government. They know I fought the Baathists, the idea of the Baathists. Those who committed crimes should go to face justice, and the hundreds and millions of people who never committed crimes, they should be pardoned and should be part and parcel of the Iraqi society.”
Even in the midst of election uncertainty, violence is waning, or as the Post believes, “democracy seems to be taking shape.” With all of the jockeying and chaos this last week has brought to bear on Iraq, no major attacks have occurred. That’s not to say the country is out of the woods but it is a strong indication that after years of war, this was the vote Iraqis needed in order to ensure the future stability of their nation. One voter told the Times this week, “I went and voted for Maliki. I jeopardized my life to vote. Yet I am not bitter at Allawi’s win. Everybody who supervised the elections said there was no wrongdoing.” That is just one point of view but it’s a powerful sign of just how much Iraq has moved away from the dark days of just a few short years ago.
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.