Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Parties Linked To Tehran Gain in Iraq

Eli Lake, The NY Sun:
Early estimates from Iraq's election commission suggest sectarian and religious parties trounced liberals in last week's parliamentary elections.

The first results are particularly troubling for deputy prime minister Ahmad Chalabi's party. The electoral commission's preliminary voting results from Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, and Irbil, which were released yesterday, show a sweep among Shiite voters for the United Iraqi Alliance, the party comprised almost exclusively of members of Shiite religious parties with close ties to Iran. Mr. Chalabi's party, however, is in danger of failing to win even a single seat. READ MORE

In a press conference yesterday announcing the preliminary results of the vote count, the electoral commission's general director, Adel al-Lamy, did not mention Mr. Chalabi's party in reading the results so far in Baghdad, presumably because it failed to gain more than a few thousand votes. Roughly 40,000 votes are necessary for one seat. Meanwhile, the head of another liberal party that had polled well before the elections, Mithal al-Alusi, told The New York Sun that he believes the dominant Shiite Arab party cheated his party out of seats his party rightly won.

If Mr. Chalabi's party could secure a small bloc of seats in the new parliament, many observers predicted he would be a contender for the prime minister position. But if he is humiliated by the election results, the chances he will lead the new government in Baghdad are almost nil. More important, the strong showing by the United Iraqi Alliance - predicted to maintain a slim numeric majority in the parliament - could embolden the factional militias affiliated with its three main parties to continue their attacks on Sunni Arab civilians and political rivals.

The results yesterday were announced after American military leaders released about 24 top former officials in Saddam's regime, including a biological weapons expert known as "Dr. Germ," from jail. President Bush yesterday, in a year-end press conference, said that while the elections in Iraq would not mean an end to violence, they represented the "beginning of something new: a constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East."

But Mr. al-Alusi, a former de-Baathification official who had two sons assassinated and has praised Mr. Bush in the past, said he is worried that the prospect of a constitutional democracy is now in peril. "Somebody has given the president false information," he said in an interview from Baghdad. "We have had a great Iraqi day, the election day on Thursday. But someone who was well organized has stolen our election day." He added, "We may have just traded the Baathist fascists for the religious fascists."

In a press conference yesterday, Mr. al-Lamy said the United Iraqi Alliance had already won 1.4 million votes after counting 89% of the ballot boxes in Baghdad, which make up a little less than 60% of overall vote. Coming in second in results from the capital, with 19% of the vote, was the Sunni Arab Islamist party, known as Iraqi Accordance front, scoring a little more than 403,000 votes. The party of a former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, won a little more than 327,000 votes, accounting for 14% of the ballots counted.

The decision to announce the early results was a turnaround for the electoral commission, which had announced Sunday that it would take at least two weeks to analyze the votes because of fraud. "We should analyze all the voting problems that we've heard about and concentrate on alleged fraud, especially in the north of Iraq," a senior commission official, Hussein Hendawi, told Reuters on Sunday.

Mr. al-Alusi said yesterday that he felt his party was cheated. He said that monitors from his Iraqi Nation Party were so intimidated at polling stations in Najaf and Basra that they were afraid even to file reports on election day. One of the party's leading candidates in Basra yesterday, Majid al-Sari, was nearly killed after his car hit a land mine only 100 meters from his home. "It's impossible that this land mine got there accidentally," Mr. al-Alusi said yesterday. Mr. al-Alusi also said he could confirm a report last week from the New York Times that a truckload of phony ballots had been intercepted by Iraqi police driving into Iraq from Iran.

An adviser to Mr. Chalabi in Baghdad, Francis Brooke, however, yesterday seemed less concerned about potential cheating. In an interview he said, "The announcement that was made yesterday is preliminary and unverified. We are saying as an official statement, the preliminary, unverified results are inconsistent with our reporting from our election monitors."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Brooke said the INC would get anywhere from 9 to 15 seats in the new parliament. Mr. Chalabi over the weekend privately predicted to Iraqi politicians that his party would likely win 10 seats in the new parliament. Mr. Brooke yesterday said Mr. Chalabi held a meeting with America's ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, to discuss the contours of the new government.

A Washington representative for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Qubad Talabani, who is the son of Iraq's president, yesterday said he thought Mr. Chalabi would still have a role in the next government. "In my opinion Chalabi will always have a future in Iraqi politics regardless of whether he gets a high turnout of votes or not. He will always have a lot to offer Iraq," he said.

A former Pentagon adviser on Iraq and current scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin yesterday cautioned that the results from the vote in Baghdad were preliminary. But Mr. Rubin also said that it was likely Messrs. Chalabi and Allawi would not do well in the election." Ayad Allawi did poorly, and Ahmad Chalabi did poorly," he said. "When we see how fractious the liberal opposition is, it makes us wonder why we have been so anxious to let a thousand flowers bloom rather than encouraging them to unite."