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Edition 3 Volume 3 - January 27, 2005

The Iraqi elections

In Turkey's interest  - Meliha Altunisik
There are still minefields ahead. Civil war is the worst case scenario. The Kirkuk issue will continue to be high on the agenda of Turkish policy-makers.

Wrong place at the wrong time  - Saad Jawad
The level of participation will be very low, and those who called for a postponement of the elections were right

Flawed but a landmark  - Joshua Muravchik
The elections bespeak a momentum of democratization in the region, and the rise of the principle of popular sovereignty

The future of Iraq is through the ballot box  - Sadegh Zibakalam
The hardliners among Iranian leaders have realized that what Iran failed to achieve through eight years of war with Iraq, may be realized through a democratic election in that country.

In Turkey's interest
 Meliha Altunisik

In general, Turkey has been a supporter of "free and fair elections in Iraq" and considers the upcoming elections of January 30 a critical part of Iraq's transition. According to Ankara, the elections may ease problems of transition, decrease violence and instability, and bring normalization and legitimacy to the post-Saddam regime. The holding of elections has also been in line with Turkey's general Iraq policy that calls for a unified, stable, and democratic Iraq.

Despite the difficulties, the elections and the successful working of the political process are clearly seen as a way to break a vicious cycle. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in his speech to the parliament referred to this dilemma in Iraq. According to Gul, the chronic instability that is plaguing Iraq impedes a successful transition process. On the other hand, the absence of a transfer of sovereignty creates more violence. Thus the only way to break this cycle is to advance the legitimate political process. Due to these considerations, Turkey is supporting the holding of elections on time. For the same reason, again in Gul's words, Ankara thinks the transfer of sovereignty "should be real and not virtual". Within this context Turkey is also supporting increased United Nations involvement in Iraq during and after the elections.

Nevertheless, Turkey is aware of the difficulties of this transition. There seems to be a clear concern that after the elections there could be factional infighting--even a civil war--in the country. To prevent this, Ankara emphasizes the importance of the principle of inclusion, preferably in the elections, and certainly in the post-election process of building institutions. The importance of securing the participation of Arab Sunnis was particularly emphasized by several Turkish government officials. Foreign Minister Gul stated that, "We will make suggestions to anyone in order to persuade them to participate in the elections. Sunni Arabs should not be excluded from the government. While Iraq was being formed in 1932, the Shi'ites were excluded from the administration. When they tried to participate in the government later on, trouble occurred. The same things should not be repeated."

A more important sticking point from Turkey's perspective is related to Kirkuk. Turkey has opposed Kurdish control of the multi-ethnic city. Since the toppling of the Saddam regime, Turkey has been arguing that the reversal of Saddam's Arabization policies should not lead to Kurdification of the Kirkuk region. Turkey several times stated bluntly that it would not accept a change in the status of Kirkuk.

The announcement by Iraqi Kurdish leaders in December 2004 that they wanted to postpone local elections in Kirkuk was perceived in Ankara as another attempt by those leaders to incorporate the region into the Kurdistan federal government. The Kurdish leaders justified their position by arguing that article 58 of the Iraqi Administration Law, which calls expeditiously "to take measures to remedy the injustice caused by the previous regime's practices in altering the demographic character of certain regions, including Kirkuk" has not been implemented.

Recently US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage visited Syria, Iraq and Turkey and reiterated US support for the implementation of Article 58, without specifically speaking about Kirkuk. Whether this means postponement of local elections for the Kirkuk region is not clear. Turkey's special representative for Iraq, Ambassador Osman Koruturk, has also said that Turkey wants the implementation of Article 58. However, the important point for Turkey is that only those who were subjected to these injustices are entitled to redress. The way in which this sensitive issue is handled is very important as there is a real danger of ethnic violence in the city.

Turkish diplomacy has engaged in bilateral and multilateral efforts to support the election process in Iraq and to realize its objectives. The government has dialogued with each of the Iraqi groups during the election process. In addition, the regional states' initiative that was launched by Turkey has been institutionalized; it fosters a dialogue among these states, including Iraq, on issues related to that country. Finally, Turkey has been in contact with US and EU officials as regards Iraqi elections.

It is in Turkey's interest to see the elections succeed. Success under these circumstances would mean that the elections are conducted in a more or less secure environment with the largest possible turnout, representing all groups in Iraq. The outcome should be seen as legitimate by the majority of Iraqis.

But even if all these conditions are met, there are still minefields ahead. The possibility of a civil war is the worst-case scenario. The Kirkuk issue will continue to be high on the agenda of Turkish policy-makers. In dealing with these challenges Turkey seeks to continue to foster its ties with all the actors in and out of the region, including within Iraq, working for a unified, stable and democratic Iraq. Only the emergence of such an Iraq would ease Turkey's threat perceptions regarding that country. This in turn would lead Turkey to focus more on its own transformation through the EU accession process, and to a large extent would decrease tensions within Turkey as to the increasing power of ultra-nationalism there.- Published 27/1/2005 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Prof. Meliha Altunisik is chair of the Department of International Relations at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara.

Wrong place at the wrong time
 Saad Jawad

As the Iraqi elections come ever closer, the indications are that the level of participation will be very low. This, and the boycott of the process by large sectors of the Iraqi population, undermine the already dented credibility and legitimacy of this election. Statistics available show that even among Iraqis abroad the turnout will be low, and out of some two million people said eligible to vote only 130,000 have registered. If this is the case among those regarded as having escaped Saddam Hussein's dictatorial rule and who live in safe and secure environments, then one may understand the reluctance of the deprived and vulnerable inside Iraq.

To start with, the vast majority of the Sunni population is refusing to take part in these elections. The major Sunni provinces--al-Anbar (Ramadi and Falluja), Mosul, Salah ul-Din (Tikrit and Sammara) and Dyala (Baquba)--have already made clear their unwillingness to participate, and the majority of the Sunni parties have pulled out of the race one by one. Some large and influential Shi'ite organizations, personalities and gatherings are also boycotting, including the Muqtada al-Sadr trend. Perhaps more damaging, even some Kurdish parties and political leaders have voiced their support for a postponement of the elections.

Of course, the above-mentioned groups, parties and sectors of the Iraqi population are not taking this attitude for the sake of foiling a democratic process they have been longing for. First, they say, the security situation in Iraq does not encourage or permit people to freely take part in the elections. Second, many feel they have been completely neglected and sidelined by the government and the occupying forces during election preparations, and were not consulted or approached by those who wrote and drafted the election law. The Iraqi High Commission for the Elections was established by the coalition administration and the Iraqi government without consultation with the different Iraqi political or judicial organizations.

Third, they say, there are areas such as Falluja and Samarra where it is impossible for elections to be held because of the destruction inflicted upon them by American (coalition forces) bombardment, while other areas are largely encircled by foreign forces making the free movement of both voters and candidates almost impossible. Fourth, with no neutral monitoring mechanism there is no guarantee the elections will be unbiased or honest. The United Nations has refused to send observers and no other credible body is offering to do so. Finally, free and credible elections cannot be carried out under the yoke of occupation.

In addition to that, the vast majority of Iraqis do not know who the candidates are. They know only the name of the leading figure in any list and perhaps one or two others. Most Iraqis have not voted before, and no education to this end has been forthcoming. The money spent on the elections went mainly to those favored by the US administration and smaller groups got almost nothing.

Thus, those who have called for a postponement were right. For the process to have any legitimacy a number of steps should be followed. To start with, the elections should be preceded by two reconciliation conferences--one in Baghdad and the other in a neighboring country--to bring people together with the government. The Iraqi High Commission for the Elections should be reorganized to include representatives of all the major Iraqi political trends. A new resolution should be issued by the UN Security Council to ensure monitoring of the elections. At the same time a clear and binding statement by the US government should also be issued stipulating a timetable for the withdrawal of US (coalition) forces from Iraq. The newly elected assembly should then be left free to accept or reject any law, and all the laws and regulations imposed or issued by the occupying forces should not be regarded as binding to any future government.

Needless to say, however, the US administration, the real power in Iraq, has shown no inclination to accept any of these suggestions. The US administration wants early elections because it wants to pull out and put an end to the daily attacks and killings of American soldiers.

Internally, meanwhile, those pressing to hold the elections now are almost certainly doing so because they feel this is a propitious time for them to gain power. They fail to realize that once doubts have shadowed any election, no matter what the results, the election will be seen as illegitimate. Indeed, Iraq itself provides a precedent. When the Iraqi Shi'ites were left out of power during the British occupation, the injustice haunted them for almost a century and framed their relations with those who cooperated with the British at the time. They are now committing the same mistake, and instead of listening and reaching out to the Sunni population, the major Shi'ite groups are insisting on regarding the election date as sacred. The only thing sacred is the right of all eligible citizens to participate in the vote.- Published 27/1/2005 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Saad Jawad is professor of political science at Baghdad University.

Flawed but a landmark
 Joshua Muravchik

The January 30 elections in Iraq will be marred by violence, administrative failings, and boycotts. Yet, however flawed, the voting is likely to be a landmark in the history of Iraq and the region.

The violence and threats have already harmed the campaign by making it difficult or impossible for some candidates to campaign in public. But Iraq is far from being the first country in which elections have been held in such circumstances, and in other cases--such as El Salvador and Cambodia--the violence did not defeat the elections. Rather, the elections helped bring an end to the violence.

That Iraqis want this election is demonstrated by the fact that some 7,500 candidates have filed to run for the 250 seats, a ratio of 30 candidates for every seat. And despite the obstacles, public opinion soundings show that except in a few provinces, Iraqis will vote in large numbers. This will be the most meaningful exercise of popular sovereignty in the country's history.

The government that it will produce may have various faults or virtues, but it will consist of Iraqis chosen by Iraqis. The American (and allied) military presence in the country will not disappear overnight, but the foreign troops will remain only at the request of the Iraqi government and under conditions set by that government.

Of course its enemies will call it a "puppet," but this will not be too convincing. For anyone who looks at events with open eyes, it is apparent that the Americans had nothing to do with putting together the various slates. The slate expected to win the most votes was organized under the aegis of Ayatollah Sistani. Sistani has cooperated to a considerable degree with the Americans, but no Iraqi will believe that he owes his allegiance to them.

As a result, the violent opposition will be weakened. Radical Islamists (including foreigners) and hardline Baathists may want to fight to the bitter end, but those Iraqis who have joined the resistance just because they hate the foreign occupation may be persuaded to give the new government a chance. Indeed, there is likely to be some form of dialogue between the government and these resistance elements. Perhaps they will be led to see the obvious: the sooner the violence dies down, the sooner the occupiers will leave their country.

Could it be that elections that result in a Shi'ite victory and underrepresentation of Sunnis (due to a low vote in those areas) will lead Iraq to disintegration or full-scale civil war? This is a danger, but there is reason not to expect this outcome. The Shi'ites, with the prospect of becoming the country's leading political force, have a strong incentive to work to keep the country whole rather than to exercise their majority in a vindictive or vengeful way. So far, they have shown they recognize this. Those who assembled the Sistani-backed slate took pains to include some Sunnis and Kurds as well as some secular Shi'ites. The Shi'ites have steadfastly refused to retaliate for acts of violence against them apparently designed to provoke inter-communal warfare. And they have also expressed openness to finding ways of increasing Sunni participation in the new government and in writing the new constitution in the event that the circumstances of the election leave the Sunnis without due representation. On the other side, few Sunni voices have been raised in favor of dismembering the country.

Most likely, then, the elections will be a major step toward a peaceful and democratic Iraq. They will also be felt in other Arab countries.

It is true that anger and distrust toward America are running very high. But it is easier to hate a superpower than to ignore it. America's recent advocacy of democracy in the Middle East has stirred ferment in the region, emboldening indigenous democrats and encouraging concessions by the rulers.

Last year was the year of the "initiative," pro-reform declarations issued by gatherings in Alexandria and half a dozen Arab capitals. This year, 2005, will be the year of voting. Iraq's January election will be followed by a national referendum on a new constitution in October and for a new government in December. The Palestinians have just elected a new president. Soon they will elect a new legislature and more new municipal councils. Saudi Arabia will make a small break with absolute monarchy, allowing (male) voters to choose 50 percent of the members of municipal councils. Elections have also been announced in Yemen and Oman. Electoral contests in Lebanon and Egypt, though no novelty, promise to be more meaningful than in the past. In Lebanon, a multi-confessional slate opposed to the Syrian occupation shows promise of winning seats. In Egypt, leading dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim has said he is seeking a way to run against President Hosni Mubarak. Only four years ago, Ibrahim was thrown in jail for a much lesser act of defiance.

Of course, each of these elections will be limited or flawed, but they bespeak a momentum of democratization in the region, and the rise of the principle of popular sovereignty. All the old rationalizations for authoritarian rule increasingly ring hollow. January 2005 may be remembered as the month in which both Palestinians and Iraqis took major steps toward democracy, steps that will reverberate around the region for years to come.- Published 27/1/2005 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Joshua Muravchik is the author of "The Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle East".

The future of Iraq is through the ballot box
 Sadegh Zibakalam

Ever since the allied occupation of Iraq and the fall of Saddam Hussein in March 2003, Iran has been regarded by the Americans as well as by the new Iraqi leaders installed by Washington as a destabilizing power. Iran has been accused of harboring, financing, organizing and allowing its soil to be used by the terrorists operating against Iraq in the post-Saddam era. The most minimal charge that has been brought against Iran is that it is not preventing the insurgents from crossing its border and entering into Iraq.

The Iraqi information minister, Hazem Shalan, a staunch opponent of Iran, has repeatedly accused the Islamic regime of interfering in Iraqi affairs and supporting the terrorists operating against Iraq. During a press conference in January 2005 he repeated the charges against Iran and Syria and stated angrily that "Iraq, too, could bring to the streets of Tehran and Damascus the violence which these countries are causing on the streets of Iraqi cities. But Baghdad would refrain from taking such decisions against its neighbors". Both the Iraqi president and the prime minister have accused Iran of interfering in Iraq.

These Iraqi officials are not the only Arab leaders expressing anger or anxiety about the alleged Iranian role in Iraq's future. The Saudi and Kuwaiti leaders have been anxious about Iran's goals in Iraq, particularly the prospect of an Iraq run by an Iranian-backed radical Shi'ite regime. The Jordanian leader King Abdullah recently accused Iran of trying to create a "Shi'ite crescent, which would include Iran, Iraq and Lebanon". His remarks were so offensive in the eyes of the Islamic leaders in Tehran that the Iranian foreign minister boycotted the Amman gathering attended by Iraq's neighbors as well as Egypt at the beginning of January 2005.

Iran's interests and desires in Iraq have been grossly misunderstood, and Iran's real intentions in Iraq have been marred by all kinds of misinterpretations and allegations. Before analyzing what Iran wants and does not want in Iraq, we must note that opinions are divided inside the Islamic regime. There are certainly some Iranians who look upon Iraq as a battlefield with the "Great Satan", the United States: now that the Americans have made the mistake of entering Iraq, they must not be allowed to depart so easily. In other words, these Iranians perceive the Iraqi situation broadly in terms of the ongoing 25-year conflict between Islamic Iran and the US.

This is by no means a majority view among the Islamic leaders, nor is it shared by many other Iranians. In fact many Iranians have argued that the US involvement in Iraq has created a unique opportunity for both countries to resolve their differences and cooperate with one another toward a prosperous and stable Iraq, which would be in Iran's long-term interests.

With regard to the future Iraqi government, once again the Iranians are not united. Certainly there are some hardliners among the conservatives who desire to see a radical Shi'ite regime with a strong anti-western and particularly anti-US stance. They would love to see an Iranian velayat-e faghi regime in Iraq. The majority of Iranians, however, would prefer to see a democratically-elected government in Iraq with friendly ties to Iran.

The important question is "what is the Islamic regime doing in Iraq?" Is Tehran carrying out an active anti-Iraqi policy as claimed by some of the present Iraqi officials? Are the Iranian leaders trying to install a Shi'ite-dominated government in Iraq in order to suppress the country's Sunni minority, as claimed by some Arab leaders?

Surprising as it may sound, the answer to both questions is negative. Of course many Iranians realize that if Washington could put the Iraqi crisis behind it, it would pursue a much tougher approach toward Iran than it is currently following. But this does not mean Iran would actively support the insurgents in Iraq, for the obvious reason that Iran is aware that the bulk of the Iraqi Shi'ites oppose the insurgency since it is led by hardline Sunnis both from within and outside of Iraq.

Caught between two opposing forces, namely an anti-US desire on the one hand and the long-term future of Iraqi Shi'ites on the other, even the hardline Iranian leaders have opted for the latter. While in the beginning Tehran dismissed any American-organized elections as a sham and an attempt to install an American puppet in Iraq, that line has been abandoned and the Iranian media, including the state-run radio and television, have adopted a strongly pro-elections attitude.

In other words, even hardline Iranians have realized that stability, security and law and order in Iraq serve their ultimate objectives there far better than suicide bombings and violence. The position adopted by the Iraqi Shi'ites, notably Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was instrumental in changing the attitude of the Islamic leaders. Of course the Iranians are still showing their excitement at every US failure in Iraq. But the important point is they have realized that the future of Iraq is through the ballot box and not suicide bombings.

As for the charge of trying to create a Shi'ite regime in Iraq to suppress the Sunnis there, this too is naive and simplistic. Iran certainly prefers to see a Shi'ite regime in Iraq. But we must not forget that Iranian leaders are as motivated politically as they are religiously. That is to say, for them the anti-western and anti-American stance is as important as being Shi'ite. The last thing on the mind of Iranian leaders in trying to establish a Shi'ite-dominated regime in Iraq would be to suppress Iraqi Sunnis, particularly insofar as the latter prove to be anti-American.

Even the hardliners among Iranian leaders have realized that what Iran failed to achieve through eight years of war with Iraq, may be realized through another means: a democratic election in that country.- Published 27/1/2005 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Sadegh Zibakalam is professor of political science at Tehran University.

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