February 11, 2005

Iraq Vote: Tunnel at the End of the Light

Analysis

By Jalal Ghazi
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE

SAN FRANCISCO — As the dust settles after the Iraqi vote, Arab media are pronouncing it a triumph for the United States. But also for Iran — and even the Sunnis. This goes to show that the road is not going to be easy for Bush’s vision of post-Saddam secular government.

Almost no Arab media contested the view that holding the Iraqi elections on time was a great success for the Bush administration. Abu Dhabi television also pointed out that the Iraqi police and national guards are getting better — they were able for the fist time to protect the lives of Iraqis — and, thus, the United States and Britain can now start thinking about an exit strategy.

However, Al Quds Al Arabi, an independent newspaper based in London, pointed out the elections were also a success for Iran, which was as enthusiastic about holding them on time as the United States. According to the newspaper, Iran won because a significant number of its supporters ran and most likely will hold seats in the new national assembly and government.

An Al Quds Al Arabi commentator wrote, “It is now clear that most of the national assembly seats will go to the two major Shiite lists, and this majority will form the new Iraqi government that will include two camps: the first and the strongest will be made of U.S. loyalists, the second will be made of Iran’s loyalists.”

Iran has maintained good relations with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Higher Council for the Islamic revolution, al Dawa Partry, the Iraqi National Congress led by Ahmad Chalabi and Al-Sadr supporters. All these Shiite political forces were united under the umbrella of the Ali Sistani’s United Iraqi list, which is expected the get the highest number of votes.

Al Alam television, a 24-hour Arab news channel based in Tehran, has been very supportive to the United Iraqi alliance and opposed to the Iraqi list led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Nevertheless, an article appeared in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-financed newspaper, with the headline, “The Shiite coalition will dissolve after the elections,” referring to Ali Sistani’s United Iraqi list. The article says some of the Shiite parties on this list have little in common and in some cases are competing against each other in municipal elections. They are likely to fight over seats in the new national assembly.

The strings that hold these different Shiite forces together in the “Shiite House” were woven by Iran. Their common objective was winning as many votes as possible in order to replace current Prime Minister Allawi. Al Alam television reported that the Iranian former president Hashem Rafsanjani accused the United States of trying to use fraud in the elections and questioned why it is taking so long to announce the final results.

On the other hand, Abu Dhabi has been critical of the way Ali Sistani has utilized religion to gain political power, like issuing a religious decree telling Iraqis to vote and at the same time endorsing the United Iraqi Alliance.

Other Arab countries like Jordan and Egypt share this position, because they see the secular and U.S.-backed Allawi government and its election list as a better alternative to the clerical, Iranian-backed coalition. In addition, while the secular Interim government’s list emphasizes its links with neighboring Arab countries, the religious United Iraqi Alliance emphasizes its Shiite link with Iran.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish Alliance list — the umbrella of the two major Kurdish parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Massoud Barazani and the Patriotic Union Of Kurdistan of Jalal Talabani — will most likely win the overwhelming majority in the autonomous Kurdish areas of Iraq, especially because many Arabs in those areas boycotted the elections.

A spokesman for the Islamic Party of Iraq, the largest Sunni party, told Abu Dhabi television, “The Kurds want to make it look like they are a majority, but they are not. Kirkuk is 45 percent Arab, 45 percent Kurd, and the rest are Christians and Turkmen.”

Of course, Turkey shares this position because it fears that if the Kurds are able to add oil-rich Kirkuk to their areas of influence it would give Kurds significant financial power, which they may use to advance their separatist aspirations. These fears were exacerbated by an exit poll showing Kurdish voters supported the idea of an independent Kurdistan 10 to 1.

Marwan Beshara, a regular commentator on Abu Dhabi television, says the Sunnis are the only ones who can pull Iraq together. This explains why Bush and many Iraqi officials have invited Sunni parties, even those that boycotted the elections, to participate in the political process.

Significant Sunni political representation in the new Iraqi government is seen as a counter-balance to Kurdish separatism. On the other hand, the Kurds may agree to adding Sunni representatives in the new Iraq government to counterbalance Shiite domination, especially if the government is going to be a religious one.

So, after all is said and done, even the Sunnis won in the elections, without having to participate.

Jalal Ghazi monitors and translates Arab media for New California Media (a project of PNS) and Link TV.

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