Saturday, March 27, 2010

Iraqi elections underline sectarian divisions once more

 (Picture AP)

Some might try to interprete the results of the March 7 selections in Iraq as a sign that democracy is taking root in this country after all it went through, but in reality it is highly questionable whether this is the case. The preliminary results which have been published last Friday (more than two weeks later than was expected), show that voters have voted strictly along the lines of ethnic divisions. The outcome may lead to a process of  forming a government which will not only long and complicated, but which also will underline these divisions once more.   

Most seats, 91 of  the 325 seat parliament, went surprisingly to Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National Movement, (mostly called 'Iraqiyya').  Allawi is a secular Shi'ite and former prominent member of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party who defected in the 70ties. He served as prime minister in 2004-5. In his 'Iraqiyya' Sunnis are strongly represented - Salih Mutlaq, vice-president Tareq Hashimi and former diplomat Pachachi all belong to this colaition. 
Second - with 89 seats, only two less than Allawi - came State of Law, the coalition of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. State of Law (or SLA) is a kind of rainbow coalition, but is dominated by Al-Maliki's Shi'ite Da'awa party. The results show that Maliki won in ethnically and religiously diverse Baghdad and in predominantly Shi'ite southern provinces, while Allawi dominated largely Sunni northern and western regions. 

The third place went with 70 seats to The Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a Shi'ite bloc with close ties to Iran (the most porminent parties in this bloc are the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), the 'Badr' armed wing of ISCI and  the Ahrar-party of Muqtada al-Sadr).
The Kurdish alliance, a union of the two most powerful Kurdish parties, the Pattrottic Union Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party KDP  finished with 43 seats.

The fact that the INA bloc emerged as a strong third party means that Muqtada al-Sadr (picture), INA's strongest man at the moment, is in a strong position to function as kingmaker. Representatives of Maliki's SLA and followers of Sadr travelled to Iran on Friday to meet with Sadr who currently is studying there, according to Reuters, quoting  INA sources. Rumours of a possible merger of SLA and and INA were already going round before the elections. If an actual merger would take place, the two blocs together would come close to the 163 seats needed to form a government.

But attempts to sideline Allawi in the negotiations to form a new government could lead to resentment among the Sunnis, who this time seem to have fully participated in the elections.Sectarian violence exploded after the last parliamentary vote in 2005 as politicians took more than five months to agree a government.
Underscoring Iraq's fragile security and the tensions caused by the March 7 election, two explosions in the town of Khalis, in Iraq's mainly Sunni northern Diyala province, killed at least 42 people and wounded 65 just before the release of the results.

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