Gregory Hooker, chief analyst of CENTCOM, the American command running the war in Iraq, was commissioned by its chief, General John Abizaid for a detailed forecast of the results of January 30 election for 275 national assembly seats.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Iraq describe the forecast as a simulation exercise based on US and Iraqi intelligence data gathered in the last six months, together with estimates of opinion openly canvassed in towns up and down the country.
The forecast presumes two fixed events:
One is that the elections will take place on time, notwithstanding surging violence, terrorist threats and the Sunni voter boycott. The second is that orderly vote-counting will be possible despite efforts at sabotage.
This forecast bears strongly on the Bush administration’s second term Iraq policy, the tasks facing the US armed forces, the chances of the elected national assembly taking up its responsibilities, including the drafting of a new national constitution, and the prospects of an elected government exercising authority.
- Altogether 111 political entities – parties, individuals or coalitions – are running for the 275 National Assembly seats.
- A total of 7,785 candidates are registered on the national ballot
- Eligible voters in Iraq: 14.27 million
- Eligible voters outside Iraq: 1.2 – 2 million
- More than 130 lists were submitted by the December 15, 2004 deadline for registration. Nine were multi-party coalition blocs while 102 were lists presented by single Iraqi parties.
- There are two major political blocs – Shiite and Kurdish:
The Shiite Unified Iraqi Alliance list submitted 228 candidates representing 16 Iraqi political groups including the dominant Shiite factions. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq – SCIRI, heads this list, followed by Ibrahim Al-Jafari, head of the al-Dawa Party.
- The two Kurdish parties headed by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani decided to run together on the Kurdish list.
- Both the Iraqi interim prime minister Iyad Allawi and Iraqi president Ghazi al-Yawar submitted their own lists of candidates. Allawi’s party, the Iraqi National Accord – INC, submitted a 240-candidate coalition, while al-Yawar leads an 80-member slate representing the Iraqi Grouping.
For elections held now, Hooker projects the following figures:
The Shiite Unified Iraqi Alliance list – 43.8% = 120 national assembly seats.
The Kurdish list – a surprising 36.4% (more than twice their 16-18% proportion of the general population) = 100 seats
The Iraqi National Accord – 8.1% = 22 seats (which would mean forfeiting his claim to the premiership).
The Iraqi Communist party (the best organized) – 1.6% = 5 seats.
All the Assyrian, Turkomen and Yazdi minorities together – 4 seats.
All the rest – 5 seats.
A Shiite victory will shift government from Baghdad to Najef
The Iraqi Research Institute ran a poll of its own and came up with different results from the American forecast. The Shiite bloc carries an estimated 112 seats in the National Assembly, to the Kurdish list’s 42. Prime minister Allawi came out much better in this poll with 76 seats, four times the American forecast.
However, no political or military source in Iraq could vouch for the credibility of this poll. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s analysis is therefore contingent on the Hooker findings.
The first conclusion reached by our analysts is that, while the leading Shiite UIA bloc can expect to be the big winner of the election, the real victor will be the Shiite cleric who assembled and founded the alliance, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his inner circle. The slate he drew up of candidates to the legislature reflects his political aspirations and cunning: of the 120 registered, the first 60 are independents with no parties behind them and will therefore be totally dependent on Sistani himself for support.
Al-Hakim’s SCIRI will get no more than 14 assembly seats, while al-Jafari’s al Dawa must be content with 12. The former rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr‘s following will match al Dawa with 12 places in the legislature.
This forecast has sweeping ramifications:
- The real seat of government will move from Baghdad to Sistani’s power center in the Shiite holy town of Najef.
- A breakdown of the slate shows that pro-Tehran and Iran’s chosen men have been pushed down to the unrealistic foot of the dominant list and will have no real influence in the new power structure.
Kurds profit from deals with Sistani
The Kurds owe their projected upset victory to three prime causes:
1. The union of the two principal lists will help the Kurds carry districts in which their community is a minority in the population, like Iraq’s second largest town of Mosul and certain quarters of Baghdad.
2. Major concessions by Sistani in Kirkuk. One is his acceptance of the transfer of tens of thousands of Kurdish voters into the city. Quietly underway at this moment is the largest demographic transformation in Iraq since the war began, an abrupt reversal of the population displacement conducted by Saddam Hussein. Sunni families are being pushed out of Kirkuk to the Sunni Triangle and replaced by incoming Kurds. Turkomen, Assyrians and Yazdis gnash their teeth but have no power to interfere in the Kurdish takeover of the mixed city.
3. Another key Sistani concession is his consent to local elections taking place in Kurdish regions for a Kurdish national assembly at the same time as the general election. In return, the Kurdish leaders have granted Sistani a powerful tool of government, a promise to join his Unified Iraqi Bloc in a coalition administration.
The Shiite cleric has little to fear from this alliance. He knows the Kurds are only interested in expanding their own self-government and will therefore not muscle in on the central administration with power-sharing demands. Their backing, however, provides insurance for stable Shiite-dominated government in the long term.
The upshot of this deal could split Iraq’s governing authority between Najef and Irbil.
The Sunni Muslim minority can hardly be expected to sit still as the Shiites and Kurds split up the post-war spoils of power.
(Read separate article on Sunni reaction.)