Ahead of Iraq’s first general election for its 275-seat national assembly, a statistical projection conducted on behalf of the US military command predicted that the Iraqi voter would on Dec. 15 slash by a hefty 15-20 percent the strength of the Shiite Muslim and Kurdish blocs dominating the outgoing transitional government and legislature.
This is revealed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources.
This projection was filtered all the way up the American chain of command from Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid to commander-in-chief President George W. Bush in the White House. Copies also went out to the US ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad, vice president Richard Cheney, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
The big loser according to the forecast will be the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite bloc cobbled together by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani from Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim‘s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq – SCIRI, prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari’s Dawa, radical cleric Moqtada Sadr’s group and 22 smaller factions. This bloc garnered 132 seats – 48% of the outgoing legislature – in the January 30, 2005 poll for transitional government.
The US military statisticians offer two reasons for the UIA’s slide.
For one, Sistani withheld his public blessing from the group – unlike last January, because he has had an argument with prime minister Jaafari.
Second, although Sadr’s followers were given realistic seats on the list, the cleric did not bother to encourage his followers to turn out for the vote. Some say that once he gained safe seats in the National Assembly for his party, Sadr felt confident enough to order his supporters to vote for rival parties, including Sunni Muslim lists.
The predicted plunge of the Kurdish alliance is explained by their leaders refraining from harnessing the well-oiled and funded campaign machine which last January produced a 98% voter turnout in the Kurdish region and 71seats, or a 25% stake, in parliament.
No more than 60-70% of eligible Kurdish voters were expected to cast their ballots on December 15.
Kurds lose ground out of indifference
The American military pollsters produced a rationale for the Kurdish indifference.
Last January, the two Kurdish leaders, Masoud Barzani and transitional president Jalal Talabani, pulled hard for victory on the basis of their complete accord on the distribution of the fruits of power – Barzani would rule Kurdistan and Talabani, hold the national presidency in Baghdad, where too he would lobby to promote Kurdish independence. Eleven months later, this accord has faded and the old personal rivalries have flared up between the two Kurdish tribal leaders. Each is striving to elbow the other aside from the northern enclave’s power points, especially the oil fields, where Talabani’s followers have gained the upper hand.
Furthermore, Talabani has lost interest in sitting athwart governing institutions in Baghdad. He assumed the presidency in the first place to be in position to frustrate any plans hatched by central government for sending the national army into Kurdistan or interfering in the region’s affairs. He has since concluded that the national government and legislature have neither the clout not the competence to make inroads on Kurdish autonomy.
The top priority for him and his PUK party now is to consolidating their grip on the Kirkuk oil fields. Barzani laid greater stress on cementing his regional regime in Kurdistan than on multiplying his party’s seats in the National Assembly.
Based on these shifting trends, the American military statisticians predicted that a substantial slice of the Kurdish vote would swing away from the Kurdish alliance to the Islamic Kurdish party, a Sunni religious grouping with ties to Muslim Brotherhood factions of the northern Syrian Kurds, just across the border from Iraq.
Iyad Allawi looks good for prime minister
If the main Shiite bloc and the Kurds are postulated as the big losers of the December election, the big winners should be the non-religious Shiite former prime minister Iyad Allawi and his Iraqi List, which came in third in the last election with 38 seats and 14% of the legislature. Composed of a hodgepodge coalition of moderate Shiites, Kurds and Sunni liberals, this party may look forward to a 20% plus share in the next parliament.
The second predicted winner is Ahmad Chalabi and his Shiite National Congress, which stand a good chance of 5% of the vote.
The US military pollsters forecast that, with 25% or more of all parliamentary seats, the two non-religious Shiite lists will hold the balance of power in the new parliament. The two big blocs, the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish alliance, will have to nominate either Allawi or Chalabi to head a coalition government.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraq sources reveal that some of the 22 UIA-affiliated Shiite lists signed secret accords with Allawi. They promised to support his bid for the premiership if his list gains enough votes to act as the pivotal force in parliament – even if Sistani objects.
Allawi holds several strong cards. He is smiled on by the Bush administration in Washington and key US diplomatic and military figures in Iraq, all of whom would be content to see this former transitional prime minister returning to the helm of Iraqi government.
As a middle-of-the road politician who is not identified with Shiite power centers, he also enjoys the support of powerful Sunni Muslim groups, whose leverage will be much enhanced by the high Sunni vote for the first time since the former regime was overthrown.