Monday, March 08, 2010

The Comic Thief




Iraq completed elections over the weekend. The latest episode of Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) began airing Friday. Jasim al-Azawi interviewed Iyad Allawi.

Jasim al-Azawi: I am delighted now to welcome from Baghdad, Iraq's former prime minister and the leader of the National Iraq Movement, Iyad Allawi. Iyad Allawi, welcome to Inside Iraq.
Iyad Allawi: Thank you.
Jasim al-Azawi: Let me ask you about the description and the adjective that have been used for this election. "This is going to be decisive. This is going to be historical. This is going to change the destiny of Iraq." That is exactly what they said about the 2005 election. So why should we believe that this election is going to change the misery of Iraqis?
Iyad Allawi: We hope it will change the misery of Iraqis. This election is going to be a milestone. And the -- and the movement of Iraq forward in history. And I think the withdrawal of the American forces, the draw-down which is starting soon, the Constitutional issues that need to be discussed, which are quite hot now on disputed areas and territories and certain provinces in Iraq. The overall situation in the Middle East as a whole is not encouraging. Those are some indications why this election is going to be an important and significant election for this country.
Jasim al-Azawi: Yet cynics say, "The players are the same. The Constitution remains the same. The political game is the same." So why should we believe there is a possibility for a movement forward?
Iyad Allawi: The United States is -- as you know -- going to-to start the drawdown. It's going to be ready for the pulling out of Iraq. And indeed the Iraqis need to co-exist and they need to create a government which is worthy of Iraq and can implement the security and have the security prevail, can provide services to the people that have been denied the proper services for a -- for a human beings and to increase the revenues of the Iraqi family. And a very wealthy nation, we'll have millions of Iraqi refugees outside and millions are displaced and so we hope that these elections will bring government that can undertake these important steps taking Iraq forward.
Jasim al-Azawi: Let us talk about you, Iyad Allawi. For the past five years, you've been working very hard to build this powerful coalition that is challenging the current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. You are secular. You believe in modern liberalism. You don't believe in sectarian politics. You managed to pull many people from different parts of life representing many different ideologies. What you have right now, is it enough to beat al-Maliki?
Iyad Allawi: Well it's not a matter of beating al-Maliki. There is nothing personal with al-Maliki or anybody else. We have clashes with programs. We think that the only way for Iraq to proceed forward is to get away from sectarianism. It's to build national reconciliation. It's to move in a modern way of management and to have Iraq for all Iraqis -- regardless of their ethnic, their religious, their sects, their background. And that's where we differ with some -- with some groups including the group on the slate of Mr. al-Maliki. And we hope that we can achieve our goals because we have been witnessing a withdrawal of people from sectarianism, more people are embarking on national reconciliation and they cannot tolerate anymore politicizing of religion in this country. Religion is sacred and is respected and we respect religion. It's part of our identity. But to politicize the sects and the religion is not acceptable. That's why we hope that we will defeat other groups who believe in sectarianism and do not believe in national reconciliation.
[. . .]
Jasim al-Azawi: In the last two minutes left to me, I'm going to ask you two questions. First, how fearful are you that the election will be riddled with fraud? You -- you are on record saying that if you come to the conclusion that fraud has reached a certain level, that you are going to boycott the entire political process.
Iyad Allawi: Well, you know, Jasim, we have seen fraudulent elections last time. Now the environment is not encouraging -- the political environment. There are already problems, by the way, in the elections which have started abroad. There is reduction of the polling stations which is not compatible with the number of Iraqis willing to vote. This has occurred in Syria, this has occurred in the UAE and it is unacceptable measure. However, we are willing to accept a little bit of fraud in the elections because people trying to hang to power will try to make whatever is necessary, whatever it takes. But if this becomes out of proportion, we will go back to the report of the Security Council which was produced two weeks ago.
Jasim al-Azawi: Yes.
Iyad Allawi: About calling for inclusive, fraud free elections in Iraq and we are going to decide in the Iraqiya what the position is going to be because we cannot have democracy raped in the way it is being. We cannot have the political process being diverted.
Jasim al-Azawi: Final ---
Iyad Allawi: And we will strive and do our best.
Jasim al-Azawi: Final question Iyad Allawi, the Iraqi vice president in an interview with al Hayat newspaper, he said, "If al-Maliki loses and he loses big, he just might engineer a miltary coup d'etat. Do you share his concern?
Iyad Allawi: All the indications are not comfortable -- are not making us feel comfortable. And I think my brother Tareq al-Hamashi does have some concerns -- which I share some of his concerns. But I will tell you this: that the Iraqi people are not going to allow anybody to-to take their world and to take their destiny and the Iraqi people are going to be proud of this. They have been proud of their history. And they are and they will ensure that nobody is going to steal them from their right and from their freedom. Whoever this person may be. Whether it's me or anybody else. Iraq is for Iraqis. No doubt about this. Maybe we are now passing through a difficult stage but I'm sure that the Iraqi people will victor again ["one day" or "at the end of the day"].
Omar Chatriwala (Voices From Iraq, Al Jazeera) offers video of Iraqis sharing their thoughts on the elections and we'll note the following (there are more speakers than we're noting -- we are noting every woman in the videos).
Iraqi Man: I have been here since five o'clock in the morning. I have not been able to find my name on the list. I've come back a few times but still can't find my name. Yes, my vote counts. Many voters have left without casting their vote. Why is my voice not heard?
Iraqi Woman: We look forward to seeing more freedoms and democracy in Iraq and we hope the right man is put in the right place I supported and voted for the Iraq bloc led by Iyad Allawi. He's a secular politician and is serving the country. Religious blocs are no longer popular in Iraq. Iyad Allawi is a popular politician who loves his country.
Iraqi Boy (under ten years old): I hope that the previous government will not come back. I look forward to a new one. I look for a change. I want stability and security. We wish to see things we did not see before. All the previous politicians did not deliver. The open list allows the voters to elect the candidates that they trust
Iraqi Woman (holding young child): I will not vote. The previous government did not deliver anything. What should I expect from the coming one. I do not think that we would benefit if we elect any candidate. We look for employment. I have been working for three years on temporary contracts and was promised a permanent job with the last election.
Iraqi Woman: We hope that Iraqi people will be able to live in comfort and security. Simply speaking, we the Iraqis in general have never felt safe or secure.
Young Iraqi Man: No, I will not vote in the coming elections. I've been living in a block of flats owned by the state. I've been unemployed with no job for years I have applied many times to join the National Guard. I cannot accept that Iraq is rich in oil but we work as servants to the Americans and others. Where is the Iraqi president? What is he offering? What has he delivered to us?

"We got up at 7am and were planning to vote. Next thing. I was digging my wife out of the rubble. She is eight months pregnant and both her legs are broken. My children are not badly wounded but look at their eyes. We don't have a future, we want to leave. We need to go somewhere else to secure anything like a future. I hope my family can stay in the hospital. This is the only place we have."

--Zuhair Hikmat, 40, at the Yarmuk hospital in central Baghdad

"I left my house to go to the election centre at 7am. I walked near a pile of rubbish and the bomb went off. I think this situation will deteriorate again. I am unemployed and they were going to pay me for one day's work. Now I have nothing." --Salim Turki Najim, 45, from the west Baghdad neighbourhood of al-Hurriya

Voting ended in Iraq yesterday. Early voting took place prior to Sunday. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported on Sunday, "More than one hundred attacks upon civilians with small home made bombs and 13 roadside bombs exploded in Baghdad alone, Sunday that resulted in at least 38 civilians killed and around 90 others injured on Elections Day, March 7." Reuters added a Falljua mortar attack which left six people injured, a Mahmudiya mortar attack claimed 1 life and left eleven people injured, a Yusufiya mortar attack that injured one person, a Mosul roadside bombing which left two people injured, a Mosul grenade attack which left seven people injured, and a combination of Iraqi forces, US forces and Kurdish peshmerga shot a Mosul council member and two bodyguards with the shooting being termed "a misunderstanding." This is what US Preisdent Barack Obama calls "a milestone"? It gets worse. Anne Gearan (AP) reports US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated of Sunday, "All in all, a good day for the Iraqis and for all of us." Including the dead? Far more common sense was shown by the top US Commander in Iraq. AFP reports that he was shown a new cover of Newsweek featuring George W. Bush with the "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner and he replied, "I don't think we'll know whether we were successful or not in Iraq until three to five or 10 years down the road." Meanwhile China Daily notes that "the American military presence so prominent in 2005 was limited on election day to helicopters buzzing over head as a massive deployment of Iraqi forces took the lead on the ground."
There are no results yet and the only 'poll' on voting is a poll commissioned by Nouri al-Maliki's government which really doesn't go to "independence." Andrew Lee Butters (Time magazine) explains, "With thousands of polling places using paper ballots, and a ban on vehicle travel and other security measures for election day itself, the exact figures on voter turnout, as well as the results themselves, won't be known for days." Here's another example, Elizabeth Palmer CBS News (link has text and video) explains it will be days before results are known and that there were 10,000 polling stations in Iraq. Ben Knight (Australia's ABC) adds, "Voting in Iraq's parliamentary election has finished and as the long process of counting the votes begins, Iraqis have celebrated their national elections. Counting of the votes is already underway and it is expected to be some days before official results are announced, but there is still danger that the militants who tried to derail yesterday's vote will attack again." Caroline Alexander and Daniel Williams (Bloomberg News)also note, "Vote-counting is under way in Iraq, where citizens defied bombs and mortar shells to get to the polls in yesterday's national parliamentary election. They probably will face months of haggling by fractious leaders over the formation of a coalition government." Not only are votes still to be counted, Karen Brown (CBS News -- link has text and video) reports that the UN "says ballots will be counted twice and any polling station with significant discrepancies will be audited immediately." Rather basic but Quil Lawrence and Steve Inskeep (NPR's Morning Edition) have made it necessary that we be very remedial on this topic. Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) offers some advice NPR should consider heeding:
First, don't rush to speculate on who won or what it means. All the Iraqi lists are loudly claiming victory, but the truth is that no official (or even unofficial) results yet seem to exist. The anecdotal evidence still points to the pre-election speculation -- Maliki on top, Allawi a strong second, the ISCI/Sadrist Shi'a list fading -- but it's only anecdotal. It does make a difference who comes out on top, and who becomes Prime Minister - Maliki and Allawi, for instance, would have very different styles, as would Chalabi or some such. But at the same time, there's almost certainly going to be a coalition of some kind (fully inclusive or otherwise) and the differences probably won't be as stark as some people expect.
McClatchy live blogged the elections (also click here). RTT News reports that the percentage of non-police, non-defense, non-hospitalized and non-imprisoned Iraqis voting in Iraq "has been officially confirmed as 62.5." This would mean that, as Free Speech Radio News pointed out today, the percentage voting was "lower than the 76 percent that turned out in 2005."

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