Commentary

Iraq's Difficult Road to the Ballot Box

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

With parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of April, the various Iraqi political forces are actively seeking voter support. But the future of Iraq is unlikely to be determined solely in the ballot box. In fact, the ongoing Sunni insurgency risks upsetting the tenuous sectarian balance currently in the place, and for many, none is more responsible than the country’s prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki.

In an op-ed for Arab News, Ramzy Baroud singles out Maliki and the legacy of the “Abu Ghraib culture” left by the departed U.S. troops: “There is no denial that the brutal policies of the Iraqi government under Nuri Al-Maliki is a continuation of the same policies of the US military administration, which ruled over Iraq from 2003 until the departure of US troops in Dec. 2011....While post-US invasion Iraq was not a heaven for democracy and human rights, the ‘new Iraq’ has solidified a culture of impunity that holds nothing sacred. In fact, dishonoring entire communities has been a tactic in Al-Maliki’s dirty war....The war and rebellion in Iraq will continue as long as those holding the key to that massive Iraqi prison understand that human rights must be respected as a precondition to a lasting peace.”

Continuing his criticism of Maliki in yet another op-ed (this time for the Gulf News), Mr. Baroud points out that “One pressing issue that Iraq’s Anbar-based protest movement has relentlessly stressed is that of women prisoners held by the country’s central government. Spokespersons for the movement claimed widespread torture, imprisonment and rape of thousands of women, mostly from Sunni areas. The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki took minimal responsibility, if any, accusing their detractors of simply lying or misconstruing facts.”

The Oman Tribune editorial urges Mr. Maliki to find a political, rather than a military, solution to the current Sunni uprising: “Maliki must see reason. He must not take the road that many dictators have taken before. Iraq is a democracy, albeit not a perfect one, which comprises many sects competing for power and influence. Bringing them under one umbrella is a pre-requisite for the prime minister to govern effectively. With just a few weeks to go before general elections are held, Maliki must begin the crucial political process without tarrying for even a little while. Or else, the militants are bound to wreak havoc and sabotage the poll that may result in Iraq taking another step towards the yawning abyss.”

Some, including Azzaman’s (Iraq) Fatih Abdulsalam have even gone so far as to propose a Geneva-type meeting to resolve the stand-off in Fallujah: “The stagnation in Iraq’s political scene and no improvement in sight was bound to lead to a security and political vacuum. The demonstrations that swept several parts of the country, particularly the Muslim Sunni-dominated areas, were the harbinger of the worse to come....Today many villages, towns and large swathes of the Province of Anbar, which in area is equal to one fourth Iraq’s land, are outside government control. But can the government launch a big battle in this highly sensitive province? I do not think that would be an easy decision to take even if the government has the means to do so....Conditions in Iraq are more complicated than one might think and the government is too weak to take the initiative and solve problems through dialogue and reconciliation.”

The National’s Aymenn Jawad Al Tamimi agrees, especially since it seems unlikely that another Sunni awakening will be in the making anytime soon: “As Sunni insurgency in Iraq continues to gain ground, with at least 1,076 civilians killed last month, a question about the main militant groups and, perhaps most importantly, the relations between them, becomes ever more relevant....On the whole, it seems unlikely that the Iraqi government will be able to revive a widespread ‘Sahwa’ movement, the popular anti-insurgency Awakening Councils in 2005, against Isil for the time being. Meanwhile, killing will likely continue. None of these groups has the strength to dislodge the central government from power, but the government is similarly unable to decisively defeat them. Isil poses the most serious terrorist and military threat, while the other groups primarily constitute a problem for the government to assert control in Sunni Arab areas."

But the Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq are not the only areas to be concerned about in Iraq.  Namo Abdulla worries that Iraqi Kurdistan might prove to be even more unstable and problematic in the near future. Writing for Al Jazeera, Abdulla suggests “The presence of well-armed militias including that of the KDP is the primary reason we might be seeing the onset of an even bigger crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan. The fact that the two parties have been allies for more than a decade but never agreed to dissolve their loyalist militias and replace them with an institutionalised police and armed force shows how much distrust continues to exist in the Kurdish political arena. More than four months after the elections, Iraqi Kurdistan continues to be without a government. As is the case with political deadlock, ordinary people are the primary victims. Critical public projects have come to a halt.”

Meanwhile, according to a report by Asharq Alawsat’s Ma’ad Fayad, former Iraqi PM and one-time favorite of the U.S., Mr Iyad Allawi, has dismissed rumors that he will no longer run for office “Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, head of the Iraqi National Accord party, has confirmed he has no intention to retire from politics, saying he will lead the new Wataniya bloc in the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on April 30, 2014....Allawi has formed the new Wataniya bloc to contest the forthcoming elections....Speculation about Allawi’s retirement has been rife, but he confirmed that he has no intention of leaving the Iraqi political scene....With parliamentary elections in Iraq fast approaching, and with Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki facing a number of political and security crises, the Wataniya bloc is seeking to challenge the Iraqi premier.”

Underscoring the tense situation in the country as well as the recrimination between the different sides of the conflict, in another statement by Mr. Allawi, posted on the Iraqi daily Aswat Al Iraq, the leader of the new Wataniya block accused the current PM Maliki of being controlled by foreign forces: “Head of Wataniya political bloc Iyad Alawi stated that ‘foreign and regional hegemony control the political decision in Iraq.’ In an interview in Arabia TV pointed out that ‘the current military escalations in Anbar and other provinces will shed its shadows on the coming elections, which may lead to its postponement.’ He stressed that the army should be ‘for Iraq’ not to a certain political bloc.”


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