Electoral uncertainties in Iraq may threaten a steady timetable for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops
Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission announced the results of the nation's strongly contested parliamentary elections on March 26, more than 20 days after ballots were cast. Though clearly a positive development, it also presents an impasse that could prove problematic for a U.S. military seeking a way out.
The Iraqia bloc, headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, garnered 91 seats in the 325-seat Council of Representatives—narrowly edging out the State of Law coalition led by incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which won 89 seats.
Since no single bloc won more than half the total seats, the final choice for prime minister remains uncertain. Political analysts have noted that the establishment of a new government could take months.
Shortly after the Independent High Electoral Commission announced the election results, al-Maliki declared his intention to fight the results. He said he was awaiting a ruling on election fraud complaints that had been filed with the Iraqi judiciary. But, overall, a positive attitude for the elections' outcome prevailed among other parties.
Faraj al-Haidari, head of the Independent High Electoral Commission, reaffirmed the justice and transparency of the elections as a hard-won victory for all Iraqis at a press conference. The UN's observer mission also said the voting process reflected the will of the vast majority of the Iraqi people. Christopher Hill, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Raymond Odierno, Commanding General of the U.S. forces in Iraq both expressed support for the results.
Some media outlets, however, have speculated that the current political chaos in Iraq may hinder a speedy departure for U.S. troops. For Washington, which is highly anxious for a full withdrawal from Iraq, any political turbulence can quickly turn into a stumbling block.
To show the fairness of Iraqi parliamentary elections and to put the Iraqi population at ease, the United States has declared that there has been no evidence of any severe fraud in the voting process. It has also hailed the elections as a milestone in modern Iraqi history.
Allawi was able to claim victory because he successfully gained the support of Iraq's Sunni Muslims, as evidenced by the triumph of his Iraqi bloc in the Sunni-dominated provinces in western Iraq.
Following the announcement of the results, Allawi said his alliance would play a leading role in the formation of a new government. The undertaking is moving ahead, he noted, adding that he has already reached out to a number of political parties.
But many remain worried that—given the highly fragile nature of Iraq's current national reconciliation—this will prove challenging at best.
Although the polls have long since closed, more time will still be needed before the political forces can strike a new balance again. Indeed, even if some parties are willing to form coalitions as a political ploy, the sustainability of these alliances following the birth of a new government remains in doubt.
Most problematic is the intransigence of al-Maliki in refusing to accept these election results. This creates more uncertainty threatening the completion of the electoral process.
Even if al-Maliki were to accept the final results—with his 89 seats in the parliament—he would still have plenty of room with which to maneuver. Whether al-Maliki and other parties will permit Allawi to become the next prime minister remains an open question.
Moreover, if al-Maliki finds himself as the lead opposition figure in parliament, he and his political alliance can still exert considerable influence. These and other subtle factors could well prove explosive in the future.
After so much suffering in the wake of U.S. occupation, the Iraqi people have long grown tired of unremitting violence and poverty. Most wish to see a strong, stable government that can achieve national sovereignty and provide for their needs while achieving peace and reconstruction.
But all these electoral uncertainties show there is a long way to go before Iraqis can gain control of their destinies.