The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Iraq's elections

Here's a few notes on some recent stories that have come out about Iraq's elections following the recent confusion about whether they might take place in January as planned, later, not at all, or only in the half of the country that is not under the control of insurgents.

  • Time reveals, probably for the first time but in a disappointingly short article, that it took a House democrat to scuttle a CIA plan to covertly provide funds to pro-US candidates in Iraq:

    U.S. officials tell TIME that the Bush team ran into trouble with another plan involving those elections — a secret "finding" written several months ago proposing a covert CIA operation to aid candidates favored by Washington. A source says the idea was to help such candidates — whose opponents might be receiving covert backing from other countries, like Iran — but not necessarily to go so far as to rig the elections. But lawmakers from both parties raised questions about the idea when it was sent to Capitol Hill. In particular, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi "came unglued" when she learned about what a source described as a plan for "the CIA to put an operation in place to affect the outcome of the elections." Pelosi had strong words with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in a phone call about the issue.

    Juan Cole has a good analysis of the situation, and I personally can't wait to see coverage of this in the Arab press. This kind of stuff confirms everything people in this part of the world believe already, and I only hope that armchair political scientists (or even the real ones) will stop pretending that this administration cares about democracy. The fact is, the same people who stridently called for war in the name of reforming the region now only want to go so far. The neo-cons aren't as ideologically committed to democracy as everyone things, which is kind of obvious if you believe the whole Leo Strauss legacy and their belief in enlightened elitism.

    I like the straight-forward by Condoleeza Rice's spokesman though:

    "I cannot in any way comment on classified matters, the existence or nonexistence of findings."

    All this being said, you can't deny that the money Iran is pumping into groups like SCIRI and into the elections is a problem. It might be something one could address through diplomacy, if that kind of thing was practiced anymore. Mind you it's not unusual in democracies for foreign countries to have influence over elections, it it?

  • The cunning plan to counter this is to have an overt election financing scheme, which will be open to all parties:

    The Bush administration is exploring several steps aimed at containing Tehran's growing influence in Iraq, according to U.S. officials, who say a split between the Pentagon and the State Department has paralyzed the administration's ability to craft a long-term policy on Iran for three years.

    As one measure, the United States has earmarked $40 million to help Iraq's political parties mobilize -- and, subtly, to counter Iran's support for its allies in an emerging race to influence the outcome, U.S. officials said.

    With the election in Iraq four months away, the administration has grown increasingly alarmed about the resources Tehran is pouring into Iraq's already well-organized Shiite religious parties, which give them an edge over struggling moderate and nonsectarian parties, the officials said.

    Over the past year, Iran has provided tens of millions of dollars and other material support to a range of Iraqi parties, including the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Islamic Dawa Party and rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army, U.S. officials say. The U.S. funds will in theory be available to all Iraqi parties, although the U.S. goal is to bolster the prospects of secular groups -- on the premise that Iranian-backed parties are unlikely to turn to America for training or money, U.S. officials said.

  • Of course no one's taken money from both the US and Iran before.

  • Hold on a minute. There is a friend of Iran who's taken quite a lot of money from his friends in Washington. And he's back in the game: Ahmed Chalabi has been acquitted from the evidence against him, who were found by an Iraqi judge to be without merit:

    The judge, Zuhair al-Maliky, said in a telephone interview that he decided about a week and a half ago that "the evidence was not enough to bring the case to trial." If more evidence emerges, he said, the case will be reopened.

    The move appears to be a minor victory by Mr. Chalabi over the interim government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a longtime rival of Mr. Chalabi's. The government announced the counterfeiting charge against Mr. Chalabi in August, while he was on vacation at a summer home in Iran. At the time, it appeared to many that the charge was a move by Mr. Allawi to dissuade him from re-entering the country.

    But Mr. Chalabi did return to Iraq and proceeded to denounce the government, meeting with reporters to proclaim his innocence and vow to return to political life. He aligned himself with Shiite religious leaders here, recasting himself as a champion of Shiite rights.

    It was the latest twist in Mr. Chalabi's fortunes since he returned to Iraq in the spring of 2003 after decades in exile. Once favored by the Bush administration to be Iraq's first leader after Saddam Hussein's fall, he has spent the last few months fighting for his political future.

    Well he probably has his financing sorted out by now, as well as the advantage of not being seen as a US puppet like Allawi. Ahmed Chalabi may be one of the early twenty-first century's great political survivor, you have to hand it to him.

  • Kevin Drum reminds us that there recently was an election in Iraq for four vice-chairmen of the Iraqi National Accord and that the candidates who were elected were, in order, a Shia fundamentalist, a communist, a member of interim prime minister Allawi's group, and a sunni fundamentalist. He asks if this is a taste of things to come. It's been little-reported and there are some good links to follow up, so read it.

  • Even King Abdullah is getting lukewarm about elections (mind you, he's always felt that way about elections at home):

    “It seems impossible to me to organize indisputable elections in the chaos we see today," the king told French daily Le Figaro before meeting President Jacques Chirac in Paris.

    "If the elections take place in the current disorder, the best-organized faction will be that of the extremists and the result will reflect that advantage."

  • Trust the Tehran Times to be interested in the conference on the election planned in Egypt in mid-November. If things were going to happen as planned -- i.e. the elections held in January -- would there be a need for a conference? Why isn't the election-monitoring being planned right now with the OSCE or some other organization with election-monitoring experience? There might not be anything intrinsically wrong with postponing the election, but it would be nice that the planning is taking place with the help of organizations with a proven reputation at running elections.

  • From my hotel room I just watched Thomas Melia, a Georgetown professor and "expert on democracy and governance" argue on BBC World that "commentators should be careful" and refer to the upcoming elections in Iraq as only "partially democratic." He's just returned from Baghdad where he conducted a survey on the issue, so I hope that what this means is explained further when it's published.

  • I think I've said it before, but you really couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.