Monday, October 25, 2004

Marching Toward Freedom Without Us 

Courtesy of our esteemed colleague Swopa at Needlenose, a severely underexposed story from last Friday's (subscription-only) Financial Times. If the Iraqi elections do take place in January, as scheduled, voters will likely be choosing from among a slate of candidates put together by representatives of Ali al-Sistani:
Iraqi Shia Islamist parties have reached a "preliminary agreement" to run a single list of candidates in parliamentary elections scheduled for January, with help from representatives of the most powerful cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Shia political figures said yesterday.

If the plan works, and obtains Mr Sistani's explicit blessing, it could pave the way for an Iraq dominated by conservative Shia religious leaders for the first time since 1920. Shia Arabs make up 60 per cent of Iraq's population, and by far the largest number are followers of Mr Sistani.

Joining in such an election list may be the only way for secular figures from Iraq's interim government, such as Iyad Allawi, prime minister, to gain the political support needed to stay in office.

US diplomats reportedly are opposed to the idea, saying they favour a "consensus" list which is not sectarian. But they may have little choice but to acquiesce, due to the influence wielded by Mr Sistani . . . .

His representative in Dubai, Murtadha al-Kashmiri, insisted that Mr Sistani "will not choose the candidates for the election. That is for the people to decide."

However, his representative in Lebanon, Hamid Khaffaf, recently announced on Lebanese television the formation of a committee that would help to prepare the election list.

"A committee has been formed. It already started its work, praised be God," said Mr Khaffaf. "The committee will try to ensure that all Iraqis - be they parties, movements, currents or independents - will be represented in one list. This list will be open to all."
Meanwhile, Juan Cole reports that the International Republican Institute is busy trying to spin the "alarming" results of a poll it conducted into good news for Bush, even though a sizable majority of Iraqis support religious parties:
First, the poll is being greeted as a huge joke in Iraq, both because it is widely felt that its methodology was deeply flawed (even a local Baghdad IRI official admitted as much) and because its more positive findings are contradicted by local Iraqi polling. They left out any question about the country's most popular politician, Ibrahim Jaafari!

Second, they have actively suppressed at their web site slides Q27, which reveal the popularity and recognition ratings of major political figures. Here are some selected findings, arranged according to level of support . . . .
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim 51.27%
Ayad Allawi 47.01
Muqtada al-Sadr 45.82

Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum 37.51
Hussein Hadi al-Sadr 35.70
Adnan Pachachi 33.09 . . . .
This list is remarkable for the number of clerics at the top. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Muqtada al-Sadr, Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, and Hussein al-Sadr are all Shiite clergymen. The most popular Sunni aside from Adnan Pachachi on this list (why didn't they ask about President Ghazi al-Yawir? It is bizarre.) is Hareth al-Dhari, the Sunni cleri who leads the Association of Muslim Scholars. AMS is leading a boycott of the elections, though, otherwise al-Dhari is a shoo-in for a seat in parliament.

The other thing that is remarkable about the list is how it is split between anti-American and pro-American figures. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his arch nemesis radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are in a virtual tie for second place, behind al-Hakim. Although al-Hakim earlier cooperated with the Americans, he is increasingly bitter. He spoke out against the US attack on Tel Afar, and today al-Jazeerah reports that he is threatening to reveal the details of Iraqi government torture of prisoners. Al-Dhari is anti-American, as well, though Hussein al-Sadr had dinner with Colin Powell and is a moderate, and Bahr al-Ulum served on the Interim Governing Council.

Anyway, for Muqtada al-Sadr to have a higher recognition rate than Iyad Allawi, and to have about the same level of support, is surely highly embarrassing to the Bush administration. For so many Shiite clerics to be at the top of the list is likewise.

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