Viewpoint: Iraqi election aftermath remains uncertain

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110735838915277.jpg’, ”, ‘British Prime Minister Tony Blair’);

Iraq’s first election in 50 years has been pronounced a success. Now comes the counting for the next few days. The Iraqi electoral commission claimed there was a high turnout, and President Bush proclaimed the Iraqis had carried out a “great and historical achievement.”

And it only cost 44 lives and an undetermined number of wounded. Most of the casualties were in Baghdad.

Correspondents reported a sharp division in turnout between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish power centers. Election officials estimated 57 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Chief U.N. electoral adviser Carlos Valenzuela said turnout appeared to be high in some places, but it was too early to know for certain what the final percentage was.

In central Iraq, predominantly Sunni Moslem, many polling places were either closed or deserted while voters, fearful of personal assault or out of opposition to the election, remained away.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair termed the election “moving” and “humbling.” He said the Iraqis “came out despite the dangers.” And President Bush asserted: “The Iraqi people themselves made this election a resounding success” (

Not everyone agreed with those assessments, especially several Iraqi citizens and observers. Sabah Al Mukhtar, the president of the League of Arab Lawyers, based in London, declared the election illegal as well as flawed.

Al Mukhtar said: “Under the Vienna Convention, an occupying force has no right to change composition of occupied territories socially, culturally, educationally or politically. This election was based on the laws laid down by former ‘Viceroy’ American Paul Bremer [a Kissinger employee] and is entirely unconstitutional. Bremer personally appointed the overseers for the election,” he said, thereby making it far from “free and fair” and pointing out that the new Iraqi “democracy” is completely engineered and controlled by the Bush administration (

Bush has declared this election will change history and change the world. Veteran Mideast reporter Robert Fisk agrees, but he says it won’t be in the way the president and his cohorts expect.

For one thing, the vote was expected to shift power from the Sunnis to the Shias, stirring deep fears among the Arab kings and dictators of the Mideast that their Sunni leadership is being threatened.

Fisk says a mainly Shia parliament is likely to change the geopolitical map of the Arab world in ways Bush and Blair could never have imagined. He said this is the law of unintended consequences in action against the two leaders.

Outside Iraq, among Arab leaders, there is talk of a Shia “Crescent” running from Iran through Iraq to Lebanon via Syria, where that country’s Alawite leadership is a branch of Shia Islam. These have long been the underdogs of the region, and they will be a new and potent political force.

Iraq’s Shia political parties have said if they win, they will not demand an Islamic republic, but it is a virtual certainty that Iraq will be the first Arab country to be led by a Shia majority.

Iyad Allawi, former CIA agent and former official of Saddam’s secret police and “interim” Shia prime minister, was thought, before the election, to be the most acceptable candidate for leader, but other rulers in the Mideast do not welcome him.

Bahrain, for one, is a Sunni monarchy ruling a Shia majority, and Saudi Arabia has a long record of treating its Shia minority with repression and suspicion. Shias live on land holding the richest oil reserves in Saudi Arabia and on some of the Kuwaiti oil fields. Iraqi Shias live nearly exclusively amid their own country’s massive petroleum deposits.

The vote permits the administration to claim that—while Iraq may not be the stable, liberal democracy they promised to create—it has begun its metamorphosis to a Western-style government and American forces can therefore leave the country (

Oh yes, despite all the “stay the course” rhetoric, there are discussions in progress about how to get free of the Iraqi quagmire. There have been recent open moves in Congress to put through resolutions calling for withdrawal.

Meantime, the so-called “coalition” is coming unglued. Many European countries who were part of the “New Europe” group supporting the war have said they will either completely withdraw their forces or strongly reduce their numbers now that the vote has been conducted.

The largest reduction in force is expected to come from Ukraine, which has 1,600 troops in Iraq, the sixth largest unit of coalition troops. Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma has directed the defense ministry to ready plans to launch a full withdrawal by mid-year. Incoming President Viktor Yushchenko said: “The withdrawal of the Ukranian peacekeeping force is one of our priorities.”

That decision follows on the heels of Poland’s announcement earlier that it would cut its 2,400-man force by a third at the end of next month. Polish authorities plan a complete withdrawal by year’s end.

Hungary already has returned its 300 troops to their homeland. The Netherlands said it will pull out its 1,400 troops by the end of March, despite objections from the U.S. and Britain. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende stated: “I understand the feelings of the Americans and British, but even they can’t avoid the conclusion that the Netherlands has delivered a considerable contribution in that area of Iraq.”

Portugal is another partner that is ending its Iraq mission next month. Spain withdrew last year, and several other European countries refused to participate in the first place, leaving the American administration frustrated and angry.

U.S. officials said they will keep on asking for more foreign troops, claiming President Bush frequently makes such requests in meetings with foreign leaders. The return has been small to date. Last month, Armenia voted to send 46 soldiers to southern Iraq (

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