The votes are in from Muqtada al-Sadr’s Iraqi “referendum” and the winner is … neither of the front runners, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi or current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It’s the former interim Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who served from 2005-06. So, why did the Sadrist movement pick Mr. al-Jaafari?
In the December 2005 national election, the UIA (United Iraqi Alliance) won the majority of votes. They picked the new Prime Minister, Mr. al-Jaafari, over his opponent, Adel Abdul Mahdi, of the SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), by one vote (64-63). Who provided that crucial ballot? None other than Mr. al-Sadr himself. On the night of Feb. 11, 2006, “a senior Iraqi politician’s cellphone rang. A supporter of al-Sadr was on the line with a threat,” The New York Times published in a story at the time. According to the Times, the politician said there’s going to be “a civil war among the Shia” if Mr. al-Jaafari was not confirmed. “Less than 12 hours later, he got his wish. It was a crowning moment for Mr. Sadr,” The Times wrote.
Despite the win, Mr. al-Jaafari’s leadership would sour among members of the Iraqi Parliament, where some refused to continue backing him as Prime Minister. His relationship with the United States was also dismal. According to a March 28, 2006 story from the BBC in London, President George W. Bush said he “”doesn’t want, doesn’t support, doesn’t accept” the retention of Mr. Jaafari.” On April 20, 2006, “bowing to intense pressure, al-Jaafari agreed to allow Shiite lawmakers to vote again on their choice to head the new government,” according to Fox News. Mr. al-Jaafari said at the time, “I cannot allow myself to be an obstacle, or appear to be an obstacle to that. I want to be assured of the path of the alliance, which represents the will of the people.” Two days later, on April 22, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, named Shiite politician Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister after his Shiite coalition nominated him the day before.
Now, Mr. al-Sadr seems to relishing in some political payback after his movement voted 24 percent for him to back Mr. al-Jaafari for Iraq’s next Prime Minister. The Associated Press suggests “the results were hardly a ringing endorsement for al-Jaafari” since Mr. al-Sadr’s relative, Mohammed Jaffar al-Sadr, received 23 percent of the vote. However, Mr. al-Maliki and Mr. Allawi, received only 10 percent and 9 percent of votes, respectively, and “a handful of others splitting the remainder of the ballots,” the AP said. Once again, the outcome holds no official role but the results are “further muddying the political situation following the inconclusive vote,” says Reuters News Agency. For his part, Mr. Allawi told CNN on Wednesday that “the Sadrists are welcome to join” his government. “We are talking to them already. And the discussions are progressing well.” According to CNN, “Allawi said there was a big difference between political supporters of al-Sadr and its once powerful Jaish al-Mahdi militia.”
First, a government must be formed and the jockeying continues. Reuters says, “Iraqi leaders are travelling around the region to set out their political stalls, forge alliances and to enhance their reputations at home.” Mr. Allawi wants the results “to be officially announced by the Supreme Court, and then I guess it will take us in the range of two months to form a government.” Those results are still being questioned by Mr. Maliki. On Sunday, he suggested that some 750,000 votes cast on March 7th were the result of “vote manipulation” leading the AP to suggest that Mr. Maliki’s pronouncement “will likely worsen the country’s political deadlock.”
In the meantime, the war of words between the two top rivals continues. On Friday, Mr. Allawi told The Los Angeles Times that Mr. Maliki’s refusal to accept the election results will lead the country into a “really severe chaos” and suggested “a revolution and a coup against the constitution.” His harsh words against the Prime Minister proceeded: “Where is the reconciliation? Where are the nonsectarian appointments in the institutions? It is your strength as prime minister to get the country out of its sectarian impasse.” In response, Ali Allaq, a senior member of Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party, suggested that Mr. Allawi’s goal is to “provoke fears and worries among the people. His statements send a negative message to the Iraqi people and are used by the terrorist groups to bring more violence.”
All of this in the wake of some of the deadliest attacks Iraq has seen in a long time. “It is too soon to draw conclusions, but the pattern is troubling,” says Brett H. McGurk of the Council on Foreign Relations. Troubling but the news isn’t all bad. Last Wednesday, the Iraqi Security Forces captured two senior Al Qaeda leaders In the northern city of Mosul. That’s good news but it’s still imperative all parties work to shape a new administration as the clock ticks on American involvement. “Our withdrawal is on schedule,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday. Confidence in the Iraqi government must be restored so al Qaeda doesn’t see more opportunities to further exploit an already fragile situation.
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.