Tuesday, March 09, 2010







Sunday Iraq held Parliamentary elections. Yesterday on The NewsHour (PBS link has text, video and audio options), Gwen Ifill spoke with the Christian Science Monitor's Jane Arraf about the elections.

Gwen Ifill: Jane, it took 156 days to negotiate a new government in 2005, when the outcome was close as this one is expected to be. Is similar instability feared this time as well?

Jane Arraf: There is actually quite a lot of concern, Gwen. In fact, that's probably the major concern, because, really, what we're looking at is a very closely fought race, in which it's not clear who is going to emerge the winner. But what is clear is that whoever it is doesn't have the power to actually form a government by themselves. So, that means we're looking at weeks, if not several months, of jockeying for position and bargaining to actually form a government. And that's really what a lot of US, as well as Iraqi officials are worried about. What happens in between, in between the time that this parliament actually phases out and the new one is set to come in? There are some safeguards that have been put in place. But, certainly, it's a worry as to who actually holds the reins of power and what happens if there's an emergency.

Yesterday on the radio program The Takeaway, Iraq was discussed at length. We'll note this section.

Miles O'Brien: Alright, Phebe, this sets the clock or starts the clock on the withdrawal of US combat forces. What role does the US play at this point?

Phebe Marr (Middle East Institute): Well it plays, I think, and increasing less role -- less of a role. It's-it's muscle, of course, gets less. As we know, we're to have 50,000 there until the following year and then all troops are set to be out. But I would like to put one caution in. If things don't go so well or violence tends to flare up, say in the Kurdish area, we could possibly configure a slow-down of that withdrawal although nothing at the present moment suggests that's going to happen. I personally think that there's a possibility after the election gets settled and a new government comes in that we may actually be asked to keep a small contingent there because we're rely -- we're expected under the strategic agreement to be training, supplying, equipping, there'll be logistics and so forth for the Iraqi and all of that might require some troops -- not, perhaps, combat troops -- on the ground. And, of course, we have a huge diplomatic mission and the Iraqis are going to have to turn to us for a number of things including the debt and elimination of many US restrictions and so on. So they're still going to be a behind-the-scenes, definite role for the United States. Perhaps as a discreet mediator in some of these disputes.

Also on the program was Anthony Shadid (the New York Times is one of the producers of The Takeaway) and he spoke of how fraud was expected in the election and had been a part of the previous post-war election and how the question many are asking is how much fraud is allowable. Iraq was placed under 'crack-down' for several days due to Sunday's elections. Shaalan Juburi, Li Laifang, Jamal Ahmed and Zhang Xiang (Xinhua) report that government ministries and schools reopened today and Abu Ahmed thinks the election process was fine "but he told Xinhua that he is afraid of any fraud in the counting of ballots." Many outlets are reporting that the race is between A and B. Votes are still being counted. Not only are they still be counted but the plan to release a preliminary count today has been aborted. We're not going to make the snapshots about who may be in the lead or who it may be between. The 2000 US election was about controlling the press when the vote was unknown with both the Al Gore camp and the Bully Boy Bush camp attempting to win the day's news cycle. We're not playing that game here. Nouri has been courting the press. Last week, Hannah Allem (McClatchy's Middle East Diary) noted that Nouri threw a luncheon for -- not at -- the press. Even that was apparently too much for Nouri:

At the lunch before the news conference, journalists sat at banquet tables as sharply dressed waiters served us the grilled Iraqi fish known as mazkouf, trays of lamb, several kinds of rice and honey-soaked pastries from Baghdad's best confectionary. Everyone was hungry, but we were advised not to start until "the host" arrived. Until that moment, nobody had realized Maliki would be dining with us, which is rare for a man whose administration has had a testy and often combative relationship with the media.
Maliki swept into the dining area in a navy suit and tie. He didn't work the room, he didn't greet journalists with anything more than a cursory nod and mumbled "As salamu alaikum," followed by an order for everyone to sit. Aloof and somber, he had a hangdog look about him, and none of the charm of, say, an Ayad Allawi or Ahmad Chalabi.
It was a bit awkward, honestly, to be tucking into a delicious Iraqi meal a table over from the prime minister, who was technically our host but barely acknowledged his guests' presence. I sneaked a few glances at him and found him picking at a small piece of lamb, sipping a Diet Pepsi and trying only a forkful of the rich dessert. He indulged in an after-meal chai and then slipped away to prepare for the press conference.

We will quote Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) observing, "Facts are scarce, and spin is everywhere, in the aftermath of Iraq's election"

Some initial thoughts: voter turnout was 62 percent, according to initial reports from Iraq. That's down from about 75 percent in the 2005 election. In Baghdad, the key province with 70 seats in parliament at stake, turnout was the lowest in Iraq, at 53 percent. It isn't clear, yet, if that total includes any or all of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who fled Baghdad during the sectarian purge of 2005-2007, mostly Sunni voters who either fled to Syria and Jordan or to safer provinces in western Iraq. According to initial reports, again, election officials at polling places were ill-equipped to handle displaced voters, meaning that many internally displaced persons didn't get to vote. If the election is close, and perhaps even if it isn't, the disputes over the votes of refugees and displaced persons will be bitter and explosive.

Today at the New York Times' At War Blog, many correspondents contribute to an entry on voting in Iraq and we'll note the following Iraqi voices from Sam Dagher's section on Kirkuk:

Jabbar Mohammed, 45, North Oil Company employee
Mr. Mohammed, a Sunni Arab, said he would vote for a candidate within Ayad Allawi's coalition.
"He is a well-spoken man, educated and has previous experience in parliament," he said. "We want to change the situation. I hope Kirkuk becomes an Iraqi city again. We boycotted the last elections but these elections are different."
Karwan Hamid, 19
Mr. Hamid said he and his friends voted for the Kurdistan Alliance. Asked why he did not vote for the new reformist group Gorran Mr. Hamid said "They did not even assume power and already they cut deals with Baathists and enemies of Kurds."
Kamal Fares, 57 Oil driller
A Turkmen, he voted for a candidate on Ayad Allawi's slate. "He's like me, a Turkmen."

The United Nations was an international organization in Iraq observing the voting -- and they are observing the counting of ballots. They issued the following from Ad Merlkert, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Iraq (SRSG):

I congratulate the more than 12 million Iraqis who went to the polls, some braving insecurity to cast ballots for a better future, marking the historic character of election day. This turnout was beyond the expectations of many. I commend the IHEC Board of Commissioners and the more than 300,000 Iraqis engaged by IHEC, for their efforts to conduct elections in a well organized and professional fashion. UNAMI is proud to have supported their work.
I congratulate the Iraqi Security forces, who were solely responsible for all security on eleciton-day for safeguarding the electoral process, despite effots by some to deter Iraqis from voting. There can be nod obut that the Iraqi people stand together in their wish that reason prevails over confrontation and violence.
UNAM visited polling centers in Anbar, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, Najaf, Sulaimania, Salahadin, Diyala, Basra, Dohuk and Baghdad. We were pleased with the conduct of the vote and the evident enthusiasm for the elections among the different Iraqi communities. I join Iraqi and international leaders in the call for patience and restraint as the results are counted and tabulated. I also encourage political agents and observers to continue to monitor the process, and to direct any complaints to the IHED in accordance with the law. Only IHEC can announce the official results of these elections, which will be certified by the Federal Supreme Court.
The most crucial moment will arrive when the results are announced. The UN calls on all candidates and parties to unite in accepting the results. This will set an example for a culture of democracy that requires commitment beyond elections. The UN also calls on all those newly elected to move resolutely to seat parliament and form the new government so that political, economic and social progress is not delayed.

On the topic of the UN and the Iraqi elections, Matthew Russell Lee (Inner City Press) reports:While there is much to be said about the Iraqi elections just held, the UN can't seem to get it act together on what to say, or even what it should be talking about. Top UN envoy to Iraq Ad Melkert spoke for the second time in a month to correspondents at UN headquarters Monday, this time by video, and painted a rosy picture of the election. Inner City Press asked about the sample complaints of Ayad Allawi, about irregularities and confusion at polling stations, and his call for an investigation. We are aware of points of various candidates, Melkert said. It is is not my task to comment on particular statements. Video here, from Minute 10:42. But how could Melkert's rosy assessment not be seen as an implicit rejection of Allawi's complaints, Inner City Press asked. Video here, from Minute 11:52. It is not my task or UNAMI's task, Melkert replied, to assess complaints. I did not refer to fair elections, only that turn out was good, that it was a big day, Melkert said. "You cannot attribute to me any assessment."

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Surprised by how happy I was"
"Isaiah, Oscars, Fresh Air"
"the oscar gossip"
"Joanna Newsom VI"
"Comics, Eric Massa, Oscars"
"Spineless Bill Quigley, Chris Hedges stands strong"
"Comic, Third, Massa"
"The Comic Thief"

No comments: