Friday, February 06, 2009
Those Iraqi elections posted by Richard SeymourIt was predictable enough that US military officials would hail the recent elections as a blinding success and final proof that all of gruesome carnage of the last six years has been worth it. Equally predictable was that a rabid minority, including William Shawcross and John Rentoul in the UK, would take their word for it. I just decline at this point to contemplate the kind of mentality that could entertain such thoughts after all that has taken place. What actually happened in the elections, however, is worth thinking about.
As far as we presently know, on a turnout of approximately 51% (early claims of 60% or more were unfounded), Maliki and the secular nationalist parties have gained a boost. Maliki's gains appear to be due to his current 'nationalist' posture, and his distancing himself from the sectarian politics of his Da'wa party. For all its flaws, and however much credit really belongs to other forces, Maliki was able to obtain a withdrawal timetable under his watch, and no doubt he is being rewarded for this. Despite the fact that the relative lull in violence was bought by a succession of political compromises and negotiations, Maliki undoubtedly got some of the credit for the increase in peace and security. The good side of this is that Iraq has overwhelmingly rejected the party-cum-death-squad, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. Given that it was probably the SIIC's Badr Brigades that were responsible for assassinating some of the six local councillors during the run up to the elections (yeah, sure, they've been disbanded); given their ability to bribe and bully the electorate; and given that they had been the largest political party represented in the parliament, this is quite a kick in the teeth. The SIIC, for a long time America's closest allies in Iraq, has easily been the most dangerous and sectarian force in Iraq, and their defeat has long been overdue. Their hopes of running a 9-governate mini-state called the 'South of Baghdad Region' have ended in richly deserved failure.
Reports on the Sadrists' results point to a decline. The Sadrists did not run a single slate, but rather backed two separate parties in the election. The New York Times reports that they kept their distance in public in order to avoid being too closely associated with what many Iraqis consider a discredited and corrupt political process. That may have been a wise move, because it looks like those two lists didn't do very well. UK newspapers are taking cues from British intelligence, who claim that their joint operations with Maliki against the Sadrists in Basra have seriously destroyed the party's base and let to a Sadrist meltdown. The Sadrists were, during the peak of resistance, seen as the most likely dominant force in any post-occupation Iraq. It would be a major success for British-sponsored ultra-violence if they had truly routed the Sadrists.
As it is, I suspect that Sadr's representation will have fallen not so much because of British operations in Basra, but a) because of a sustained campaign of repression of the Sadrist movement (only yesterday, a senior Sadrist was shot by police), and b) partly as a corollary, because his movement is no longer as central to ending the occupation as it once was. Sadr's representatives were booted out of six ministerial posts, presumably at the behest of the US, and the Mahdi Army has been forced to maintain a ceasefire even as his movement has been harrassed. Sadr himself has been keeping relatively quiet, immersing himself in religious studies in Iran. Having obtained some measure of control over the movement, he has continued to try to barter for power within the state while appearing to keep his distance from it. Areas where the Sadrists were once a local power are now being taken control of by Maliki (apparently to the dismay of locals). In an intriguing twist, it looks as if Maliki and the Sadrists were cutting a power-sharing deal in some of the councils. That presumably doesn't look very good if you're supposed to be standing as an alternative to Maliki.
In the Sunni areas, alleged voter fraud and the assassination of four candidates has sort of undermined the legitimacy of the results, but so far reports indicate that secular nationalist parties are taking control of formerly Kurdish-controlled councils (Kirkuk did not vote, and there is still a fight to be won over whether it will be part of 'Iraqi Kurdistan' or a Sunni Arab governorate of Iraq. There isn't much to say about who won what, because the reportage largely focuses on the fact that there were Sunni candidates and that Sunnis did turn out to vote this time. The crushing defeat of the sectarian SIIC and the strengthening of nationalist Sunnis is going to be seen as a victory for 'centralists' - those who don't support the sectarian break-up of the country. Yet, there are reasons to doubt this. After all, as per the Biden-Gelb plan - which Obama supports - power is still being distributed in a patrimonial fashion, and along sectarian lines, notwithstanding the passage of the Provincial Powers Act last year, which sought to contain and reverse some of the effects of the 2006 constitution. The vote still broke down roughly on sectarian lines, with no party able to appeal beyond the bounds of its previous ethnic base. American-designed plans to turn Iraq into a loose federation of relatively autonomous zones determined by ethnicity are still being pushed through (and this process certainly contributed to the sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing that took place). The military and police are still dominated by militia competition, since they have mainly absorbed the militias (this could be why cops are killing politicians). Maliki likes to talk tough about militias, but everyone knows he rewarded the militias of his own Da'wa party for their role in the Basra attack. They, along with the Badr Corps, the US sponsored 'Sons of Iraq' militias (why not call them 'Sons of Sam'?) and the peshmerga are all integrated into the security institutions. But their being integrated doesn't mean they're not feuding. And, as Dahr Jamail reports, there is now rivalry between the different 'Awakenings Councils', as well as between them and Sunni parties. It looks increasingly as if however Iraqis vote, sectarianism has been built into the Iraqi state.