A roundtable meeting was held in ORSAM in order to evaluate results of the Iraqi Parliamentary Election, held on March 7, 2010. The main topics of the meeting which was held on March 22 were; how to read the election results, were there any surprises, what are the rising trends in Iraq, how did the main political actors perform, who were the winners and losers of the election, do the results have an influence on the ethnic and sectarian dynamics, is there a change of balance between Sunni and Islamic Shiite parties, what is the position of the Kurdish parties, will the results in Kirkuk effect the future status of the province, what are the potential government formulas and how do the regional and global actors perceive the results? Assistant Prof. Mehmet Şahin of the Gazi University International Relations Department was the moderator of the meeting. ORSAM Advisor and Izzet Baysal University, International Relations Dept. Assistant Prof. Veysel Ayhan, ORSAM Advisor and Ahi Evran University, International Relations Dept. Assistant Prof. Serhat Erkmen, Journalist Bahadır Selim Dilek, ITF Ankara representative Office Foreign Affairs Responsible Dr. Hicran Kazancı, ORSAM Middle East Advisor Habib Hürmüzlü and ORSAM Middle East Researcher Bilgay Duman participated in the meeting.
“Maliki and the Al-Iraqiyya List are the winners; Shiite Coalition and Gorran are the losers”
Serhat Erkmen declared Ayad Allawi’s Al-Iraqiya List, as the winner of the election while stating that the National Alliance, gathering the Islamist Shiite parties together, experienced a heavy loss. Erkmen stated that Maliki was the most successful name of the election, along with the Al-Iraqqiya List –led by Allawi – which came up as the most successful coalition. He added that the Shiite Coalition that brought Islamist Shiite Parties – except for Dawa Party – together experienced a great loss of supporters. Erkmen indicated that the gap between the Iraqi Alliance and Maliki’s State of Law appeared wider than expected and Maliki alone received more votes than all the remaining Shiite parties, this will solidify the leadership concept within the Shiite community. Erkmen said that the number of votes received by the candidates and their lists appear to be close in numbers for all coalitions but Maliki’s list stands out as an exception. In fact, in last year’s provincial committee elections, Maliki won in 9 provinces whereas in this year’s election he won in 6 provinces. Erkmen says this should be read correctly and adds “While he received about 15-20% of the votes in provinces he came first in the provincial committee elections of last year, this year his lowest rate was 35,4% in Qadisiyah. In that sense, Maliki made a great leap forward”. Erkmen also said that Iraqiyya which is the only list that received a seat in 12 out of 18 provinces has built its election strategy wisely.
Veysel Ayhan stated that the structure of the National Alliance that casts all the Islamist Shiite parties except for the Dawa Party needs to be examined attentively. Ayhan said this list will receive 65-68 seats and 33-35 of these will be Sadr’s candidates while ISCI and Bedr will receive not more than 8-9 seats in the parliament. Therefore ISCI’s demands to form the government or receive the PM seat are lacking a realistic ground. As a result, Sadr Group will provide a major center of attraction for the National Alliance. When we examine the election results, we notice that well known figures like Jafari or Virtue Party have experienced a major regression. They received not more than 3-4 seats. This indicates that Maliki is still strong in Shiite neighborhoods. On the other hand, the regression of the National Alliance doesn’t necessarily indicate that parties referring to religion or standing close to Iran are losing strength. Shiites, including Maliki and the National Alliance will tend to protect the political, military and economical privileges they obtained after 2003. We can’t divide Shia to sub-fractions such as Iranian Shia, Iraqi Shia, Lebanese Shia, Yemenite Shia or Saudi Arabian Shia. Shia is a sectarian concept and can’t be identified with a certain piece of land. Therefore, we have to realize that that there is a sectarian and political relation between Iraqi Shia and Iranian Shia and we have to take into consideration that this relation will continue in the future. Naturally, the strength of this relation fluctuates in times.
Bilgay Duman stated that there is a competition between nationalist/centralist and Islamist/Federalist values. Last year’s provincial committee elections and the recent parliamentary elections indicate that the first one outraces the latter. Duman also said that the Sunni groups have paid for not participating in the 2005 elections and staying out of the political system. Sunni groups made a comeback with the 2010 elections.
“Maliki will become Prime Minister and Al-Iraqqiya will dissolve”
Serhat Erkmen reminded that the winning party will be entitled to form the government but for now, Iraqiyya and State of Law seem to be neck and neck. According to Erkmen, the government will be formed by Maliki, with the participation of remaining Shiite parties. Jalal Talabani will be President and Maliki will be PM. Only 20-25 MP’s of Allawi’s list –which are close to the government- are likely to be included in the government formation process. Strict nationalist Sunni MP’s will be probably kept outside.
Habib Hürmüzlü included that if claims stating that Allawi’s mother is not an Iraqi citizen are proved to be right, he will automatically lose the right to form the government, as stated in the constitution.
Bahadır Selim stressed that the al-Iraqiyya list gained great success and the reason behind it is the well-designed composition of the coalition. Still, this composition might collapse as a result of Iraq’s internal balances he added. Selim said “we cannot exactly forecast the post-withdrawal situation in Iraq. But developments may cause the collapse of al-Irraqiya. Allawi’s political agility may cause reaction among the Najafi brothers. Therefore, developments in Iraq might be quite surprising. Dilek also shared his ideas regarding the government formation process: “The new government will be a national conciliation government and will include the representatives of all groups that managed to receive a certain amount of vote. The bigger groups will negotiate for internal, foreign, defense and oil ministries, presidency and prime ministry. Remaining ministry posts will be distributed among other parties”.
Veysel Ayhan agreed that al-Iraqiyya gained great success in the elections but its structure and the terms of other potential coalition parties will make it hard for them to demonstrate a similar success in the government formation process. Ayhan stated that different formulas might be introduced as all parties are ready to make concessions in order to participate in the government and enjoy the privileges. Ayhan said “The formation of the government is a negotiation process where all parties will have to make concessions regarding their policies. Otherwise no coalition government can be formed. There is a slight chance that al-Iraqiyya and State of Law will manage to form a government by themselves”. Ayhan added that Shiite voters will feel uncomfortable in case Maliki will provide greater opportunities for the Sunnis in the government. According to Ayhan, Maliki will form the government, remaining Shiite parties will participate in and Shiites will continue being the dominant element of the system, as a result of Iraq’s demographic structure. Groups that formed alliance with Allawi for the election will break up after a certain while. When considering Allawi’s alliance and the election results from this point of view, we clearly see that al-Iraqiyya is a Sunni list. Ayhan stated that after 2003, both Shiites and Kurds have been disturbed by the Sunni Arab’s –some of them were former Baathists- coming back to power., For this reason, it is quite difficult to form a government under the lead of al-Iraqiyya which represents Sunni Arabs. Hence, a government formula which includes some Sunni organizations within the al-Iraqqiya list might be feasible.
Hicran Kazancı said that there was a strong competition between Iraqqiya and State of Law but coming first does not mean much as none of the parties gained enough seats to form the government –which is 163 seats- by its own. Therefore, the formation of a coalition government is the only arithmetic solution. Kazancı stated that a coalition formed by the Kurdistan Alliance and National Alliance with Maliki as PM seems to be the most feasible formula. He added that Allawi would lose his Sunni support in case he attempts to make alliance with the Kurdish List to participate in the government. So he argued that Allawi’s list will probably remain in opposition and his alliance will dissolve in a short time. Bilgay Duman also argued that Allawi’s list will remain in opposition. Habib Hürmüzlü and Bahadır Dilek on the other hand argued that there is the possibility of all parties participating in the government as all want to be a part of the privileges. Besides, USA would not let the system in Baghdad fall apart once again, especially in the withdrawal period. Dilek said that it is unlikely for Iraqqiya to keep together; despite of the success it gained in the elections.
Would Shiites Share the system with the Sunnis?
Mehmet Şahin gave reference to historical facts about the Shiites. He said “Shiites were left outside the system during the Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman reign, and the Saddam Hussein era. They have no experience in state government. Still, they manage to balance a complex equation in these ancient lands. I believe that some external dynamics are willing to integrate the Sunnis into the system through al-Iraqiyya in order to maintain sustainable balance in Iraq. The future of Iraq lies in the assembly of all groups and nations on a platform of homeland nationalism. But personally, I believe that Shiites are not willing to share the system with the Sunnis. Shiites see their current power as the fruit of their efforts during the re-construction of Iraq and when USA attempts to integrate Sunnis into the system, they feel cheated”.
“Kurdish Claims about Kirkuk will lose legal ground”
Serhat Erkmen told that Kirkuk was one of the biggest surprises of the election and said “In the last 7 years, Kurdish groups have changed the demographic structure of Kirkuk to a great extend. But despite of their efforts, the result was not as they expected. The number of Kurdish MP’s equals to the number of other parties (6-6). Kurds failed in dominating Kirkuk and this will play a vital role in the status setting process of Kirkuk”. Kazancı added that the results have satisfied Turkmen expectations to a certain level. Iraqi Turkmen Front that participated in the elections with the Iraqiyya list guaranteed to get 5 seats in the parliament. He said “The syndrome that developed among the Turkmens for being represented by only one MP in the parliament since 2003 has been overcome”. Kazancı said that the Kurds lost power in provinces such as Salahaddin and Kirkuk which they define as “disputed areas”, that’s why; Kurdish claims about Kirkuk have lost legal ground. Kazancı warned that Kurds may develop a more aggressive approach in Kirkuk for this reason.
Habib Hürmüzlü argued that it was a correct strategy for the ITF to join the Iraqiyya List; the move was for the common good of Turkmens.
Veysel Ayhan stated that the election results will provide a political base to demonstrate Kirkuk’s demographic structure. He said “Kirkuk’s status is one of the most significant issues to be debated in the near future. In fact, inconsistency about the election regulations to be applied for Kirkuk postponed the elections. Of course it is important that the election law states that the election results in Kirkuk will not determine the future status of the city. Still, the results demonstrate the demographic structure of the province and the choices of its voters. Since Kurdish parties receive votes from Kurdish settlements and Turkmen and Arab parties get votes from the districts where Turkmens and Arabs live, the election result reflects the demographic structure of Kirkuk clearly. Personally I expect these figures to be used as a reference in all future debates about Kirkuk. Every group will use this data to explain their own policies to the international public”.
While evaluating the election performances of Turkmen parties, Bilgay Duman emphasized that the quantitative changes in Turkmen votes must be examined carefully since the increase in the number of Turkmen representatives in the Parliament can be deceptive.
Serhat Erkmen stated that the ITF gained a great opportunity to represent the Turkmen community, but this opportunity comes with a great responsibility. Erkmen warned “ITF must do its best to seize this opportunity otherwise it might experience a great failure”.
“The situation in Havija”
While evaluating the impact of the election results on the future status of Kirkuk, Habib Hürmüzlü reminded the article 6 of Iraqi election law which states that the election results in Kirkuk will not determine the future status of the city. Hürmüzlü mentioned the Kurdish groups’ demands to re-count the votes in Kirkuk and Maliki’s decision to form a commission for this purpose. Hürmüzlü warned that Kurds want to re-examine the results, particularly in Havija district and in case the results for this district will be cancelled, the current 6-6 equality in number of representatives may change.
“The Kurdish retreat depends on foreign dynamics”
Hicran Kazancı mentioned the recessional impact of election results on Kurd-Arab relations and argued that the Sunni’s in the Iraqiyya List will try to rasp Shiite and Kurdish influence on the system. Kazancı argued that the controversy between Arabs and Kurds won’t settle easily and the approaches of USA and some regional countries may force Kurds to retreat.
“KDP will gain power within the Kurdish Movement”
Veysel Ayhan stated that Gorran failed in getting sufficient votes from Kurds living in Kirkuk, Diyala, Baghdad and Mosul. Their failure in developing a strong argument regarding the disputing areas –Kirkuk in particular-, the status of the Peshmerga, Diyala issue, and their opposition against Talabani’s presidency might be the reasons. He added “There are different reasons that explain Gorran’s failure, but the lack of a satisfying discourse seems to be the major reason. On the contrary, KDP that managed to get 33-35 seats is far more successful than PUK and Gorran. This indicates that KDP will keep increasing its power within the Kurdish community”.
Bilgay Duman said “Gorran’s success in the 2009 Kurdish Regional elections was closely related with the internal dynamics of the time. Gorran developed solutions to the needs of local people. But they failed in developing a national scaled policy in the 2010 elections and therefore they didn’t get enough support from the Kurdish people”.
Serhat Erkmen added that PUK and KDP’s pressure, especially in Kirkuk and Suleymaniyah effected Gorran’s failure.
“Iran won’t run the risk of losing Iraq again”
Mehmet Şahin said that Turkey is the only regional country that is not concerned about the election results in Iraq, but Iran on the contrary is not satisfied with the results. Şahin stated that the post-2003 government was the first friendly government in the region to Iran and Iran will do its best in order to avoid losing this friend after this election. He added “Iran won’t run the risk of losing Iraq again. Iraq is the Trojan Horse of Iran; it wants to see concurring elements within the new Government of Baghdad”. Şahin argued that USA will struggle to make Sunni Groups to participate in the government to re-integrate them into the political system to ensure stability in Iraq. He also argued that most Arab States will develop a similar approach to USA.
Bahadır Selim Dilek told that the picture that USA wanted to create in Iraq after 2003 was quite different than the one of 2010. USA realized that it has to restrain the Kurds’ aspirations after a certain point, integrate Sunnis into the system, consider Iran and enhance conformity with Turkey in order to settle stability in Iraq. Therefore, the election results do not seem to be in coherence with US projections of 2003. Washington came up with 13 deferent plans after the occupation; each of them was the revised version of the previous one and the Baker-Hamilton report of 2006 was one of them. Dilek said that the Baker-Hamilton plan was not favored by President Bush at the time but it sets a base for today’s US policies regarding Iraq. Dilek added that USA wants to leave behind a governmental structure which is in coherence with its own policies therefore it will concentrate on the distribution of posts such as the ministry of internal affairs, prime ministry, presidency and defense ministry. Dilek argued that Iran won’t hesitate to involve protecting its benefits and will compete with USA for the ministry of internal affairs. Dilek also said that the US withdrawal will not be an entire one and USA will leave troops in Northern Iraq. The close US-Kurd relations are laying a ground for such military cooperation.
“The Military Coup Scenario”
Habib Hürmüzlü spoke of a scenario which was rumored during the election period. The scenario is about a US-backed military coup that will re-structure the system in Iraq. Hürmüzlü said “In 1958, no one would think of a coup but Abd-el Kareem Qasim did it in one night. We should not ignore the chance that USA may use a military regime as a radical solution to establish stability”.
Bahadır Selim Dilek and Mehmet Şahin said that the scenario related by Hürmüzlü may not be an unrealistic one because if the course won’t please the dominant foreign powers (like USA and Iran) they may attempt to re-start the game.