Early next month, Iraq is due to hold an election. One of the ironic outcomes of the US/UK led invasion in March 2003 has been to put into power a bloc of Shia religious parties long dependent on support from Iran, the star player in George Bush’s ‘axis of evil.’ Well, that ironic litany seems very likely to continue.
For starters, the Shia–run Electoral Commission has ruled out a large array of 515 electoral candidates – ostensibly because of for their past links to the old Baath Party of Saddam Hussein – in a move widely seen as targeted at the secular Sunni political bloc led by Iyad Allawi, a former CIA asset and former Prime Minister. The electoral blacklist (recently re-confirmed by a special appeals court) includes Allawi’s running mate Saleh al-Mutlaq, a vocal critic in recent months of the dependency on Iran of the current Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. As the New York Times has reported, those banned from running next month also include Dhafir al-Ani, the number three candidate on Allawi’s Iraqiya party list.
The associated round of standoffs in the election campaign have raised the prospect that a compromise candidate will need to be found.. Amazingly, there are signs that the shortlist of viable compromise figures includes the perennial Shia opportunist Ahmad Chalabi, the former Jordanian fraudster who was the US neo-cons’ favourite candidate to lead the nation after the 2003 invasion – at least until he turned out to be a double agent working for the Iranians.
While working as a double agent, Chalabi not only allegedly passed onto Teheran the CIA advances on Iranian code breaking – he had also been the central figure in feeding false information to Washington that helped to lure the US into their ruinous war against Iran’s arch enemy, Saddam Hussein. As the Americans have found out in Afghanistan as well, this nation building game is so much harder than it looks.
Post–invasion, the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been the nearest thing to a Saddam–like strongman to emerge on the Iraqi political scene. However, as Professor Juan Cole has pointed out, while al-Maliki remains the leader of Dawa (which is the old Shia religious party that used to be bankrolled by Iran during the darkest days of the Saddam era) he is not running on such an influential coalition platform this time round. As a result, the Shia religious vote could end up split between al-Maliki’s coalition and the much larger Iraqi National Alliance that (as Cole says) includes the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr Movement.
It is this potential for Shia fragmentation that bids to open the door to a compromise candidate. Iyad Allawi’s own party is quite small, but he is pulling together a wide ranging coalition of secular forces that could – under the Iraqi constitution – win the biggest initial bloc of seats, and thus give Allawi first crack at forming a government. To do so, Allawi would need to reach across to the Shia religious parties, and would probably need to offer the prime ministerial post to a candidate acceptable to both sides. In that scenario, Chalabi would enter the frame – and if not him, perhaps Ibraham Jaafari, yet another former Prime Minister who also used to be in the Dawa Party before breaking with al-Maliki, or perhaps the current vice- President Adil Abdul Mahdi, of the Shia Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
Whatever the outcome – and few will count out entirely al-Maliki’s chances of papering over at the last minute his rift with the Iraqi National Alliance – Iraq looks to be heading for a further round of political instability. If al-Maliki survives, his position will be weakened. If a compromise candidate needs to be found in the short term, such a person will rule only at the pleasure of the likes of Iyad Allawi, the CIA puppet turned puppet master. Meanwhile, the Iraqi public – who have waited seven years for basic services such as clean water and reliable electricity to be restored to the levels provided by Saddam Hussein – seem likely to be left waiting in vain. ENDS