Initial Breakdown of Iraq’s First Exercise in Democracy
Iraq’s epic general election for a 275-member national assembly Sunday, January 30, was a success by the very fact of its taking place. Despite the violence leading up to the event and promised bloodbath, a surprising number of Iraqis were not intimidated and turned out in larger or smaller numbers almost everywhere. Iraq’s Baath loyalists and al Qaeda’s three organizations – the Iraqi group led by Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, Ansar al Sunna and Ansar al Islam – managed by a concerted effort to pull off some 16 suicide attacks killing more than 30 Iraqis. Yet they failed to derail the election and therefore reduced their leverage in post-election Iraq.
In addition to the lockdown, tight security and driving restrictions, debkafile‘s sources inside Iraq report American forces carried out proactive operations. They were able to foil eight suicide attacks. Also in Mosul, where the US command decided to deploy the Kurdish 36th commando battalion (which also fought in Fallujah) in the Sunni neighborhoods, 150 ready primed explosive belts were seized – testimony to the scale of aborted carnage. And many rockets and mortars shot at polling stations made plenty of noise – but misfired.
Four hours after the polls closed, a clearly relieved President George W. Bush spoke at the White House in praise of the bravery of Iraqis who turned out to vote and “firmly rejected the antidemocratic ideology” of terrorists. But the US president seemed to edge away from his usual encomiums on a “victory for democracy.” Nor did he actually commend the Iraqis for the big step they took towards establishing a free and democratic government.
The truth is that there was not much of either in this remarkable election.
debkafile‘s Iraq experts reveal that, while the turnout is officially estimated at 60%, the real figure will probably turn out to be quite a bit lower, no more than 40-45% – in itself an exceptional feat. The other surprising manifestation was the high proportion of Iraqi women voters – appraised at more than 55% of the total. This was most marked in the Shiite districts of the south, where local clerics ordered everyone to vote, but the men stayed at home and sent their womenfolk to perform their democratic duty.
The Shiite turnout was disappointing in other ways too. Long queues and 80% percentage of eligible voters appeared only in the two shrine cities of Najef and Karbala. Further south in the densely populated Diwanya, Mussana, Qadasiya and Amara, the proportion did not go beyond 40%. In Basra, Iraq’s second largest town, the turnout was 32-35%, although Iraqi election officials claimed 90%.
Our experts characterize Shiite voting activity as “lots of hustle and bustle, but not too many ballots.”
The Sunni districts predictably obeyed their leaders boycott directive. In internal memos, American military officials reported that 150 voting centers never opened at all in some Sunni strongholds. Polling booths were not installed in the Sunni, Turkomen and Assyrian neighborhoods of the northern town of Mosul. Assyrian Christians staged large demonstrations to protest their loss of voting right and representation in the national assembly, but were given no alternative means of balloting; nor did they rate media attention.
A sprinkle of votes was marked in the predominantly Sunni Anbar province of western Iraq and the Saladin district – even in Fallujah and Baqouba. In Diyala, south of Baghdad, voting reached 30 percent under heavy US and Iraqi military security.
In parts of Baghdad, particularly the Sunni districts, many polling stations did not open and citizens lost their chance to vote.
The most striking vote-rigging incident was reported in the northern oil town of Kirkuk. There, Kurdish troops and intelligence are alleged to have trucked in tens of thousands of armed Kurds from across the province to commandeer the polling stations. Cautious estimates put the figure of imported voters at 50,000. In the absence of a proper voters’ register and computers, there was no way of establishing which voters were intruders from other districts. When the non-Kurdish politicians saw the invasion, they backed off.
By artificially inflating Unified Kurdish List numbers in Kirkuk, the Kurdish community substantially stepped up its representation in the national assembly.
Ballot-counting had barely begun Sunday night when the Shiites declared themselves the big winners over their Euphrates River TV station. The results cannot possibly be known before the week or ten days needed to tally the ballots by hand because computers are not available to Iraq’s election authorities. During Sunday night, the boxes are to be transported from tens of thousands of polling stations across the country to Baghdad. Some may not make it, either because of terrorist attacks or because they might “disappear” off the backs of trucks en route. But even without a precise count, Shiite and Kurdish victories can be safely predicted.
No one can tell yet how well the lists run by interim president Ghazi Yawar and interim prime minister Iyad Allawi have fared. Yawar is not running for election, but Allawi, to stay in office, will need at least 40-50 national assembly seats.