22 December 2005, Volume
Leading Iraqi politicians announced on 21 December that they would launch their own investigation into allegations of election fraud in the 15 December parliamentary elections. The announcement followed word from the Iraqi Independent Election Commission (IECI) that some 1,200 complaints have been filed with the commission.
Electoral officials originally downplayed reports of alleged voter fraud, telling the media that the majority of complaints were minor and would have no impact on the final vote count (see http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/12/5EC3F60D-DB0D-494C-916A-8AAA1D551907.html).
As the week wore on and political parties became increasingly vocal in their criticism of the IECI's performance, the commission announced it would delay releasing the final results of the election until after a full investigation into the complaints has been completed.
The Iraqi National List and the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front have been the most critical of the electoral process. The groups alleged that vote rigging took place in some polling centers, and implied that in some voting districts, the IECI helped skew election results in favor of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).
The IECI responded that the complaints were the work of parties who were bitter over their poor performance in the election. IECI head Husayn al-Hindawi told reporters on 20 December that the majority of complaints were "politically motivated."
On 21 December, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party, which is part of the Iraqi National List, sponsored a meeting for political forces opposed to the election results. Some 24 parties attended the meeting and announced at a press briefing afterward that they would form committees to compile a list of grievances, which would be presented to the IECI, the United Nations, the European Union, and the Arab League (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2005).
The parties said the operation would work to force a rerun of the election or discredit the legitimacy of the next government should the allegations not be dealt with. Allawi is reportedly abroad and has not commented on the issue, but his spokesman Tha'ir al-Naqib told Britain's "The Guardian" that Allawi is pushing for a new government to rule Iraq until a new election can be held, the daily reported on 22 December.
London's "Al-Hayat" identified some of the participating parties on 22 December as the Iraqi National Accord Movement, the Arab Socialist Movement, the Iraqi Communist Party, the Free Republicans Grouping, the Independent Democrats Grouping, the Iraqi Islamic Party, the National Dialogue Council, the Iraqi People's Conference, the Mosul Notables Council, and the Iraq Notables Council. According to "Al-Hayat," EU representatives have already agreed to bring the issue to the attention of the UN.
Allawi hoped to make a comeback in the 15 December elections. He has engaged in an increasingly public battle with members of the UIA in recent weeks, and alleged that UIA members were behind a plot to assassinate him (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 December 2005). The former prime minister sees the UIA as a threat to Iraq's traditionally secular form of government and is lobbying hard to get the Kurdistan Coalition to align with him in the next parliament.
Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 20 December that Allawi sent a letter to Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani asking him to consider backing out of the Kurds' alliance with the UIA and entering into an alliance with Allawi. Meanwhile, President Jalal Talabani has called for the establishment of a coalition government that would include the Kurds, the UIA, the Iraqi National List, and the Iraqi Accordance Front.
Talabani's proposal is reportedly being resisted by the UIA, which has opposed the inclusion of Allawi in any kind of coalition government. However, the UIA has not opposed the inclusion of the Iraqi Accordance Front, according to Iraqi media reports.
It remains unclear whether those groups opposed to the voting results would follow through with their threats should the IECI fail to amend the vote count. The IECI faced a similar challenge following the January parliamentary elections with regards to the vote count in Ninawah Governorate. Its final decision was to ignore calls for a rerun of the election there and do nothing. The fallout was relatively small in that case, as the protesting parties largely represented minority groups. The mood of the country was also quite different in January because the election was seen as ushering in the majority rule of the long-oppressed Shi'ite community.
This time, the fallout could be much stronger, since the protesting groups include Allawi's Iraqi National List and several Sunni Arab lists. The participation of the latter in the next government is crucial, if the country is to move forward.
The election results face an immediate challenge from the United Iraqi Alliance's major competitors, the secular Iraqi National List and the Iraqi Accordance Front, the most important representative of the minority Sunni population. Both coalitions argue that elections in Baghdad, the largest district in the country, should be annulled due to electoral fraud. Nonetheless, there are early indications that the three groupings -- as well as the Kurdistan Coalition List, which emerged victorious in the Kurd-dominated north -- are beginning to explore the possibilities of a postelection coalition.
Shi'ites Take The South, Kurds The North
Final figures from the 15 December vote should be known in the coming days, the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission (IECI) said on 20 December. Early results indicate, however, that the religiously minded United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) won in 10 of Iraq's 18 governorates. In four governorates the Kurdistan Coalition List emerged victorious, with the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front picking up four governorates. The secular, largely Shi'ite Iraqi National List (INL) led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi won in no region of Iraq, but placed second in nine governorates.
The partial results indicate that the UIA won overwhelming majorities -- with 76 to 87 percent of the vote -- in nine Shi'ite-populated governorates: Babil (76 percent); Al-Basrah (77 percent); Dhi Qar (87 percent); Karbala (76 percent); Maysan (87 percent); Al-Muthanna (86 percent); Al-Najaf (82 percent); Al-Qadisiyah (81 percent); and Wasit (81 percent). In all nine, Iraqi National List picked up much of the rest of the vote.
Only in Baghdad was the UIA's total relatively small (58 percent). Second position in the capital was taken by the Iraqi Accordance Front (19 percent), ahead of the Iraqi National List (14 percent).
The Iraqi Accordance Front's greatest success came in Al-Anbar, where it won a 74 percent majority. It enjoyed a plurality of votes in three other governorates: Diyala (37 percent); Ninawah (37 percent); and Salah Al-Din (34 percent).
"We do not care what the results are provided they truly and honestly voice the will and the choice of the people. That is how elections and democracy should be."
In the north of the country, the Kurdistan Coalition List (KCL) won by an overwhelming majority, picking up between 87 and 95 percent in Al-Sulaymaniyah, Dahuk, and Irbil. In all three governorates, a religious party that broke with the KCL ahead of the elections, the Kurdistan Islamic Union, came second. It garnered seven percent of the vote in Dahuk, three percent in Irbil, and nearly 11 percent in Al-Sulaymaniyah.
The Kurdistan Coalition List also gained a majority (52 percent) in the multiethnic Kirkuk Governorate. Second place -- with 14 percent of the ballot -- was taken by Salih al-Mutlaq's Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, a coalition that bills itself as a nonsectarian grouping.
Sunnis Call For Rerun Of Baghdad Poll
At the center of the current controversies are the electoral returns from Baghdad, the country's largest voting district. The Iraqi Accordance Front is demanding a rerun of the election in the Iraqi capital, which it believes were marred by fraud. Tariq al-Hashimi, leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of three Sunni parties in the Front, called on the IECI to "immediately revise the figures."
Hussein al-Falluji, a senior figure in the Iraqi Accordance Front, has warned that the Front might boycott the new parliament.
There was also strong condemnation from some figures in the Iraqi National List. In comments carried by Radio Free Iraq, Hamid Majid Musa, head of the Iraqi Communist Party, a member of the List, dismissed the election results as "fabricated," said the figures released for the Baghdad Governorate had been manipulated, and attacked the IECI for failing to shoulder its responsibility in an impartial and honest manner.
Musa also questioned the IECI's decision to publicize partial figures. He contends that the IECI should have waited until all complaints were resolved.
The head of the IECI, Husayn al-Hindawi, has suggested that the complaints by the Iraqi Accordance Front and the Iraqi National List are "politically motivated."
"No one is satisfied with the results but those who won are less critical than others of course," al-Hindawi told Reuters.
Musa dismissed the notion that his list was complaining because the Iraqi National List fared poorly in the election. "We are seeking to build a country of law and institutions. Our stand is not a reaction to having fewer or more votes,� the Communist leader said. "We do not care what the results are provided they truly and honestly voice the will and the choice of the people. That is how elections and democracy should be."
In all, the IECI says it is investigating over 1,000 complaints, ranging from what they term minor irregularities, which would not affect the final tally, to serious violations. Potentially serious breaches include the barring of IECI observers from one polling station, and allegations of vote-rigging found in three polling stations in the Turkish capital Istanbul.
Political Jostling Already Under Way?
Despite the acrimony and allegations of fraud, Iraq's leading political forces are reportedly already entering into discussions to decide the composition of the next government.
If the partial results are confirmed, no party will have enough seats in the 275-seat parliament to form a government by itself.
The UIA and the Kurdistan Coalition List reportedly differ about whether to include Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National List in the discussions. The Al-Sharqiyah television station reported on 19 December that the Kurds support bringing Allawi to the negotiating table, a position that the UIA opposes. The UIA wants the Iraqi Accordance Front to be a party to the talks.
Several media outlets report that the UIA is proposing that the new prime minister should be the Shi'ite leader Adil Abd al-Mahdi, one of two vice presidents in the transitional government, with Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, retaining his role as president but with enhanced powers. Talabani had complained that his role as president in the transitional government was deliberately restricted by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari. Some reports suggest the powerful Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr objects to Abd al-Mahdi serving as prime minister.
Speaking on 20 December, Talabani called for the formation of a national unity government. Asked whether he would seek to retain the presidency, Talabani said that decision would rest with the Kurdistan Coalition list.
Talabani and the Kurdistan Coalition must now decide whether to remain aligned with the UIA in the next government, or join forces with Sunni parties and the Iraqi National List.
For Kurds, the stakes are high. The next government will decide on the status of the oil-rich Kirkuk Governorate, the wording of an amended constitution, and on whether Iraq should become a federal state, all crucial issues for the Kurdish community.