Power grab in Baghdad

Scott Sadler Contributor
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“We are the winners. We have won the elections. It is our constitutional duty to form the government.” This was the angry reaction of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the winner in last month’s Iraqi elections. The news this week that the courts disqualified 52 candidates for alleged ties to the Baath party has thrown the outcome of the vote into deeper uncertainty and heightened fears of sectarian violence. At least one of the candidates comes from Mr. Allawi’s bloc. As if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Allawi is also calling for a caretaker government to prevent any attempt to “steal the will of the Iraqi people.” His bloc has further asked for the extension of the outgoing parliament “for the purpose of monitoring the executive branch” until a new one is in place.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is doing anything and everything to hold his power whether or not that’s in the best interest of his country. Mr. Allawi is not backing down and has “instructed lawyers to appeal against the panel’s decision” on the disqualification of candidates and has warned he will not “stay silent.” “The behind-the-scenes maneuvering is destroying what little spirit of compromise and cooperation existed in Baghdad before the election,” wrote Time magazine. “Dangerous Games” was how The New York Times put it.

The U.S. Ambassador didn’t hesitate when asked about the ruling. “It’s time to get this show on the road here.” A spokesman for Mr. Allawi’s coalition, Iraqiya, called the court’s decision “an effort to defame the political process.” The spokesman suggests “democracy is in danger.” The Times calls this latest setback to the elections “a political crisis that remains far from resolved.” If the ruling stands, Mr. Maliki could very well become the nation’s next Prime Minister despite his loss at the polls. At what cost is he willing to fight and maintain his authority? Every day that goes by without a formed government is another day for the insurgency to try and throw Iraq into utter chaos again. “He is also potentially gambling away the country’s security,” wrote the Associated Press. The recount that was supposed to start last Saturday has now been delayed until Monday and is expected to take as long as three weeks. That process will unfold at the Al-Rasheed Hotel in the Green Zone. What additional roadblocks will the Maliki government place in the way of the voters who have made clear they do not want him as their next leader?

To add fuel to the fire, Mr. Maliki also denied reports that torture took place at a secret prison although he was ultimately forced to call for an investigation. According to the Los Angeles Times, “forces under the office of Prime Minister Maliki held hundreds of Sunni men at the facility” and “routinely tortured” them.

It is unconscionable what is taking place. The courts plan to rule on the barring of nine additional winning candidates next week. The people of Iraq deserve better. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it best when she called on the country’s leaders Tuesday to “respect the courageous ballots of the Iraqi people.” Mr. Allawi has every right to exchange blows with the government. A government that is walking on very thin ice.

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.