October 20, 2005

Electoral Politics

The Iraqi government has chosen to delay announcing the results of the country's constitutional referendum until Friday while they examine the integrity of the process, with the tallies in Nineveh and Salahuddin appearing as those under the closest scrutiny at the moment. I really don't have that much to add as far as this issue in and of itself goes and I think that the Iraqi Electoral Commission is probably quite wise in making its decision. One of the things I would note in particular is this passage here:

The audit, announced by the Electoral Commission on Monday, will examine results that show an oddly high number of "yes" votes - apparently including in two crucial provinces that could determine the outcome of the vote, Ninevah and Diyala.

The election commission and United Nations officials supervising the counting have made no mention of fraud and have cautioned that the unexpected votes are not necessarily incorrect.

This is one issue that needs to be highlighted, namely that no one except certain Sunni leaders at this point is declaring that there's a fraud in the works. I have no idea whether or not any ballot-stuffing or other improprieties occurred with respect to the vote, but one thing I would urge observers against is drawing any unwarranted conclusions here before all the facts are in. This one of the major mistakes that Anzar made after 3/11 with respect to the culpability of ETA on similar (and at the time far more logical than some I've seen online) assumptions and we saw where that got him.

Other brief thoughts on the referendum:

* Large figures in favor of a particular referendum are not in of themselves evidence that impropriety has occurred. It can be an indication of it, but it is also equally possible that the constitutional referendum was extremely popular, particularly in the major Shi'ite provinces. It should also be kept in mind when looking at some of the Shi'ite results that Grand Ayatollah Sistani has urged Iraqis to vote "yes" on the referendum as well as the kind of following that Sistani is reputed to have inside Iraq. We have been told (and I agree with) on numerous occasions that if Sistani ever called for a popular uprising against US forces inside Iraq, that would be the end of it for us with respect to the Shi'ite population. However, it must also be asked whether or not that level of support also works in our favor on issues such as the constitution.

* There's been a lot of talk as to just how much support the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Sunni Endowment actually have in Iraq, with a lot of it centered around the January elections. I'm not sure if that's an accurate metric to use, though, given that it seems that the Sunni political paradigm has changed a lot since the elections for a variety of reasons. How much weight groups like the Association of Muslim Scholars carry among the general Sunni population rather than among the insurgents (for some of whom the Association is more or less an informal mouthpiece) would also seem to be an open question. Please note that I am not denying that any of these groups have large and influential followings, but rather that I don't think that we can effectively gauge just how much of a following they have. I am also extremely leery of viewing the Sunnis as a singular monolithic entity in either their opposition to the constitution or in terms of their adherence to the groups that purport to speak for them, whether it be the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Sunni Endowment, or the Association of Muslim Scholars.

* On a similar note, let us point out that there is a lot that we still don't know as far as the Iraqi political scene is concerned. Without attacking the integrity of any of the polling data that's been presented to date, let me just point out that we have a lot more polling firms and information available here in the United States yet would still be extremely hard-pressed to predict the outcome of our own domestic politics. One example I know I'm going to get a great deal of flak for by citing is the case of Chalabi, who was widely viewed as someone who would more or less fade into obscurity after being cut off from his Western backers since he had no domestic support inside Iraq. Instead, he emerged as a potential candidate for the Iraqi prime ministership and currently occupies a position in the government that his detractors would have assured us would have been impossible back in the spring of 2004. Similarly, Allawi is also still extremely active in Iraqi politics and is currently trying to set up an opposition bloc despite the widespread view among most observers that he was/is a CIA asset.

* A lot of scrutiny is being put on the vote totals in Nineveh and Diyala with good reason, but one question I have is why there's been so much suggestion that the "yes" totals are inflated in southern provinces but next to none on the possibility that there's been any in Anbar or Salahuddin. If anything, it would seem that the Sunnis have more of a reason in terms of simple demographics to cheat than the Shi'ites in the southern provinces do.

Ultimately, I think it's probably best to adopt a "wait and see" policy at this point and wait to see what the Electoral Commission decides. One thing I will advise though, is for those watching the referendum process unfold in Iraq not to use this as an excuse to settle old scores about voting disputes in our own country. In addition to displaying one's own provincialism, this also misses the full scope of the situation for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that Americans have voted on an entirely new constitution before. The stakes are much, much higher this time around, if for no other reason than that in our own country no political faction maintains well-organized militias on the order of the peshmerga or the Badr Brigades.

In an e-mail conversation with a friend of mine in Washington earlier today, I tried to the best of my ability to explain why I thought the prospects for civil war in Iraq were less likely than are generally believed. One point that I forgot to mention was that at this point all sides seem to be playing the political game except for Zarqawi, whose followers as I noted earlier were going to continue their attacks no matter what happened with respect to the referendum. As long as all the major factions keep playing politics rather than reaching for their weapons, I think that there's a good chance that Iraq is on its way to establishing a stable political system and would consider both Allawi's attempt to form an opposition bloc as well as the news that several major players in the United Iraqi Alliance are planning to run separately in the December election as positive steps in this development. In the interest of seeing that through to its conclusion, I think we would all do well to sit back and see what the Electoral Commission and the international observers have to say on this score.

Posted by at October 20, 2005 08:19 AM | TrackBack (8)

Perhaps the most important thing that must happen is that a new Sunni Arab leadership, preferably among those who suffered greatly at the hands of Saddam, emerges. This can happen only through electoral processes that assign real power. The sooner Sunni Arabs are empowered through the electoral process, the better.

The fact that Sunni Arabs are by and large playing politics suggests that we have turned a corner in Iraq. There are few more to turn before we can call it a day, but at least the direction is positive.

Posted by: JohnFH at October 20, 2005 08:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Given the utter lack of any international observers on the ground in Diyala and Nineveh to prevent ballot-stuffing by election officials (few of whom will be Sunnis), how the heck are we ever going to know for sure?

Who transported and did local security at the polling stations and counting centers? The Iraqi Army. Not a ton of Sunnis running around there to ensure fairness.

BTW, don't try to clear Aznar. He didn't just jump to conclusions -- he tried to force them down the throat of the world media and the Spanish people solely in order to reap the political benefits of blaming ETA, despite growing indicates that he was absolutely wrong.



Posted by: ckrisz at October 20, 2005 09:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

the referendum has failed.

it really doesn't matter if the Iraqi Election Commission certifies that it passed, all that matters is the perception within the Sunni community that there was widespread fraud which prevented them from exercising their rights within a "democratic" framework. When one considers everything else that raises questions about this referendum (i.e. exactly what text were they voting on? What happens when the text is challenged in an Iraqi court?), and the valid criticisms of the document itself, this is just about the worst outcome one could imagine....

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 20, 2005 03:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

another great post Dan. I have nothing to add.

Posted by: liberalhawk at October 20, 2005 04:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I tend to think that when you start getting votes with totals in the percentage range of 90 plus, then, yeah, there's fraud. Which of course makes sense. The guys on our side may be morally superior to the Ba'athists in that they don't blow up civilians on their way to Mosque, but they've still got their own agenda that doesn't necessarily equal a pluralistic and happy Iraq.

Posted by: Andrew Reeves at October 20, 2005 04:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Who cares? They[Arab Sunni] dominated the majority through violence in ethnic extreme, ethnic cleansing, and tyranny for decades." ...Frank Knox

Pasted from the thread below. I myself doubt that riverbend and zeyad(Healing Iraq) did a whole lot of ethnic cleansing. I do not see the Arab Sunni in Iraq as a monolithic party of terrorism, nor do I think they all want to regain, what they never really had, a total political domination over the other factions. I know some disagree.

It needn't even viewed in a moral light. It is a practical problem. If the Arab Sunni don't feel protected from the unfair policies of the majority Shia/Kurds, there will be violence. They are a too large and determined minority, with too much outside assistance, to ignore.

For at least a while, I think peace will require what might be viewed as unfair concessions and undue considerations from the majority. The present Constitution will not reconcile the Sunni to their minority status.

Posted by: bob mcmanus at October 20, 2005 04:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

With respect, an apologia that doesn't actually address any of the concerns, but draws its strength by analogy, or by abstract logical arguments - "well, it's not NECESSARILY...". What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

You don't address the actual numbers, and that's important.

"It is in Mosul, in Nineveh Province, that the Sunnis may have their best reason to cry foul. Early numbers from the Associated Press which aren't endorsed by the Electoral Commission showed almost twice as many "yes" votes for the constitution as the total number of voters in January's elections for the National Assembly, meaning that every new voter and then some voted for the constitution. Nineveh is generally considered a majority Sunni province, and Mosul was the hometown of many of Iraq's generals and other officers before the 2003 invasion.

"Mosul doesn't make any sense," said Mutlaq. "

Also, WRT to Anzar, you write as if it is accepted wisdom that Anzar made a mistake. It's not.

I would say that Anzar knew what was going on as ckrisz mentions. And it is fine for you to disagree.

But at the very least, for honesty's sake, you would not refer to this as accepted wisdom, but a point of contention. Otherwise you are simply being both historically inaccurate, and consciously misleading.

Posted by: JC at October 20, 2005 10:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


The reason I didn't address the actual numbers was because, absent any context, there isn't much in the way of conclusions that you can draw from them. The situation in Mosul is a perfect illustration of that. How much clout do the two Sunni parties that endorsed the constitution have there? Ditto with the UIA, the Turkmen, and all the other factions. Have any of them launched major voter registration initiatives since then? What are the party machines like in the city (that'll be a major clue as to who is doing the rigging and why) and so on. So far all we have is the January election results to go on and people are inferring from them the way things should have gone in Mosul, which doesn't strike me as enough of a vantage point to draw any firm conclusions.

The Time article, which I hadn't seen before now, quotes Saleh Mutlaq, who has been pretty much ubiquitous in claiming that there's been some type of vote-tampering going on to put it charitably. Has that in fact occurred? I don't know and neither does the Electoral Commission, which is one of the reasons why they're now looking into the situation rather than just announcing the final tallies and moving on.

As far as the whole Aznar thing goes:

Also, WRT to Anzar, you write as if it is accepted wisdom that Anzar made a mistake. It's not.

I would say that Anzar knew what was going on as ckrisz mentions. And it is fine for you to disagree.

But at the very least, for honesty's sake, you would not refer to this as accepted wisdom, but a point of contention. Otherwise you are simply being both historically inaccurate, and consciously misleading.

It was intended as more an off-the-cuff remark to illustrate the point than anything else. If you don't think the Aznar example fits, pick another one you think does and move on. Or if you want to argue the point, feel free to head over to WoC and debate the point with J Aguilar on that score.

Posted by: Dan Darling at October 21, 2005 12:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
The City
Western Europe
United Kingdom
Central and Eastern Europe
East Asia
South Korea
Middle East
B.D. In the Press
Syndicate this site:


Powered by