Sunday, May 09, 2004
A Second Look At The Iraq Elections - Background Material
Kinds Of Blue [Fingers]
Since I've been indulging in a little self congratulatory posting lately, I thought I would look back at what I was saying about the Iraq election as early as December 1, 2004 (and before that though I can't find the post):
Iraq is uniquely problematic in some respects in that the elections themselves will bring to a head many of the simmering ethnic tensions that have thus far remained under wraps while the insurgency has raged on in its stead. In an inversion of conventional wisdom, elections could be the precursor to civil war between the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds who will each be vying for the mantle of power that elections will bestow.For anyone following the increasingly spirited jockeying for power going on in Iraq as the newly elected blocs try to realize their often disparate goals, the earlier predictions of insurmountable obstacles appear at least potentially prescient - though hopefully there is another way.
Although the differences run deep, the recent manifestations stem from some of the logistical requirements in the nascent government. Because a two-thirds majority in the legislature is needed to pick a ruling cabinet (known as the "Presidency Council") which will in turn pick the Prime Minister, the dominant Shiite list, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) which has roughly 50% of the seats in parliament, has had to reach out to other factions in order to form a government, at least for these initial steps. Within this dynamic, the Kurdish bloc, with around 20% of the seats has emerged as the most attractive partner to the UIA - or for any other faction that would seek to reach the 66% threshold.
Realizing this, the Kurdish group has been trying to maximize on its new found leverage by pushing for several guarantees from the UIA before forming a government and picking a cabinet. The salient issues for the Kurds are autonomy (they want guarantees of more, whereas the Shiites would prefer uninterrupted control of the entire nation), religious influence in the law (the Kurds want less than the Shiites), one of their own for President (Jalal Talabani), and the control over the oil rich city of Kirkuk (the Kurds want it, but so does everybody else).
For a look at just one issue, Kirkuk, praktike cites this Spencer Ackerman piece:
As suggested above, the UIA has not acquiesced to all the Kurdish demands. While the Kurds are content to draw out the process and increase the pressure on the UIA, such delays are causing anxiety and anger in other quarters.
This is a headache Jaafari [the presumptive UIA pick for Prime Minister] clearly doesn't want: It's hard to overstate how massive a step acquiescing to Kurdish control of Kirkuk would be. Last week, the Alliance pick for prime minister was quoted as saying that "such a sensitive issue [as Kirkuk] should not be discussed under the interim government and should be discussed when we have stability, when there is a parliament and a permanent constitution"...
The Alliance doesn't want to give up Kirkuk. One of Jaafari's Da'wa colleagues recently told Radio Sawa, "Kirkuk has never and will never be a Kurdish city. Kirkuk is more Arabic than Kurdish." But we're about to learn just how valuable Kirkuk is to the Shia, since intransigence serves Kurdish interests--after all, the Shia are chomping [sic] at the bit to finally form a government and rule Iraq. What's more, Kurdish control of Tamim province--which hosts Kirkuk--virtually ensures that the Kurds can take the city eventually through a provincial vote to join Kurdistan. The Kurds seem to be telling the Shia that there's an easy way and a hard way to settle Kirkuk, but the outcome is preordained. We may soon know whether the Shia are prepared to agree.
As negotiations over the formation of a new government drag on, many Iraqis who overcame fears of attacks at polling stations and threats of retaliation are beginning to wonder why the process is taking so long, and whether voting was worth the risk....In addition, two members of the UIA recently left the coalition citing the delays in forming a government as the cause for their defections (although there are other factors at work, such as the interference of Chalabi and Allawi, each trying to strengthen their hand in their own respective bids for the Prime Minister's office by luring members of the UIA to their own sympathetic factions).
"They turned their backs on the people because they're busy dividing shares in the government," said Yousif Mohammed Tahir, 30, an electrician in the northern city of Mosul. "The security situation is worse than before. They promised a better life, but they lied."
Either way, it is clear that further delays are not in the interest of the UIA, and that is why Sistani recently stepped into the fray and pushed for a firm deadline of March 15th to conclude negotiations with the 16th of March designated as the day parliament will be convened regardless of whether or not there is a deal consummated. In addition, Kurdish brinkmanship is beginning to raise the ire of the Shiite population who view Kurdish demands as extortion, and an un-democratic form of blackmail over the process by a minority group. Though not enough on its own to force an imminent clash, or tear the nation asunder, posturing such as this only reinforces the ethnic cleavages that have been playing an increasingly prominent role in the political life of post-invasion Iraq. And the above says nothing about how to incorporate the Sunni population into the new Iraq.