Friday, December 23, 2005

Iraq Election Official Accuses Critics of Extortion

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
The head of Iraq's election committee yesterday told The New York Sun that a call for new elections from 35 largely Sunni political parties is "political extortion," and vowed not to bend to their demands.

In a telephone interview, Adel al-Lamy said he believed most of the disappointment of groups calling for the abolition of the panel he heads was more appropriately directed at their constituencies. He said that claims of fraud and abuse in the December 15 parliamentary elections were overblown and politically motivated. He also said that reports that more than 200,000 votes in Baghdad for Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress went missing or were disqualified were overblown and that he did not think there would be more than a couple thousand more votes for Mr. Chalabi's party in the final tallies. READ MORE

Yesterday, 35 Iraqi political parties and organizations, largely representing Sunni Arabs, called for Iraq's electoral commission to disband. They threatened not to recognize the next parliament unless allegations of fraud are addressed.

The protest could undermine the prospects of a unified government in Iraq, even as many Sunni leaders are privately meeting with the leaders of the large, Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance to negotiate the new government. According to preliminary results released Monday and Tuesday by the commission, the alliance will likely hold onto its numeric majority in the parliament, winning between 120 and 130 seats. Meanwhile the two main Sunni Arab parties will likely end up with 40 seats and Kurds will hold between 40 and 50 seats in the 275-member legislature.

"Political parties have been talking about disbanding the commission," Mr. al-Lamy said yesterday. "This is extortion to which we will not succumb." Mr. al-Lamy said that given the heated atmosphere, the commission was "demanding" the same kind of immunity and protections afforded judges of the constitutional courts.

In another phone interview yesterday, a former debaathification commissioner whose sons were murdered earlier this year said he did not join the protest statement issued yesterday. "I have not joined these protests. Most of the Sunni parties have done the same thing in the Sunni areas, they forged results in Mosul and al Anbar," Mithal al-Alusi told the Sun. He said he viewed the protest as an effort to gain influence over the selection of a prime minister.

Mr. al-Alusi, whose party has eschewed sectarian politics and criticized the influence of Iran and neighboring Arab states, could end up sitting the next parliament out." I am so afraid the Sunni politicians are trying to use the same political method as the terrorists to put their game to the parliament. I don't agree with it," he said. Mr. al-Alusi has also criticized the United Iraqi Alliance for its ties to Iranian intelligence.

While Mr. al-Alusi did not join the protests, former prime minister Ayad Allawi yesterday did. A spokesman for his party was particularly heated. The Associated Press quoted Ibrahim al-Janabi as saying, "These elections are fraudulent, they are fraudulent, and the next parliament is illegitimate. We reject all this process."

Responding to the charges from the 35 Sunni parties, a representative of the United Iraqi Alliance, Ali al-Adib yesterday said these allegations could lead to "chaos." "They have to accept the will of the Iraqi people, the will of the majority. The political process will continue even if they boycott it," he said. The rhetoric has raised concerns among some Iraqi observers that a civil war could result if the two sides could not reach an accommodation. But yesterday both Mr. al-Alusi and Mr. al-Lamy said they did not think things would come to that. "The Iraqi people are above that. Even those who have showed doubts on the elections, I don't think they will go this far," Mr. al-Lamy said.

In many ways the controversy this week was sparked by the preliminary results released on Monday. yesterday said he made the decision to release them for the sake of transparency. "Any transparent elections will give preliminary results. And we gave preliminary results in the last two elections. I don't know why there is so much noise about it this time," he said.

The decision, however, appeared to be a reversal at the time. Only 24 hours before the results were released Monday, commission officials said they would not release the results for days because of investigations into fraud. When asked about this, Mr. al-Lamy said that there were 20 cases he had identified that warranted serious investigation. Nonetheless, he said he did not expect these incidents would affect the general outcome he announced earlier this week. said he personally investigated claims that Iran had sent trucks of phony ballots on the eve of the election to the province of Dialla. "One day before voting it was reported by a member of a political party that two or three trucks have come through the borders having printed ballots inside of them," he said. "I reached the people actually in the trucks and discovered they had worked for the commission. These were Hyundai trucks with 5 tons of ballots. I made my connections to the security apparatuses and there was nothing. It is my responsibility, I might be wrong, yet there was no evidence after the results of extraordinary high rates of voting in these places."