The Tar Pit

Monday, January 31, 2005

Middle East reacts to Iraqi Elections - Part 2

More stories and reactions to the Historic Iraqi elections from around the Middle East:


Analysis: Iraq's next challenge
Jerusalem Post

Shi'ites, Sunnis, Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Turkmen and Assyrians all want to create a country that will suit them. The major questions to be answered remain: Will Iraq be a secular country or an Islamic one, and will it be divided into states or into regions, which would give the Kurds the autonomy they want?

Iraqi politicians celebrated Sunday evening an important step on the way to achieving a free and democratic country.

"This is a day of joy for the Iraqi people," Adnan Pachachi, the head of the Independent Democratic Movement list and a former foreign minister, told The Jerusalem Post.

But Pachachi is worried about the fight that lies ahead. As the main figure behind the US-backed temporary administrative law – a prototype constitution – he said he hoped there would be few changes made to it and that it would be signed by the August 15 deadline.

The place of religion in the state, he said, was the main dilemma for the future.

"Basically, the split is between those who want to establish a secular democracy and those who want to establish a theocracy," he said. "This is the real split, not Sunni-Shi'ite."

Adnan Ali, a member of the Shi'ite Dawa Party and chief of staff of the Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari, disagreed. He told The Jerusalem Post his party saw no problem in making Islam the official religion of the state.

"There is no harm to write in the constitution that the religion of Iraqis is Islam because it is for the majority of Iraqis," said Ali, whose list is probably going to win the majority of seats. But he said the religious Shi'ites promised not to make Islamic law the state law.

Iraq Votes / Next task for Iraqi democracy: Unifying the country

...the sweeping public legitimacy given to the elections by the Iraqi people is no guarantee of democracy's success in their country, and the two issues - democracy and elections - should not be confused. The idea of elections was formulated from the start as a solution to enable the existence of a temporary government, in which the main political players, the Shi'ites in their many factions and the Kurds, could run the country by agreement, with the Americans. Therefore, with all due respect that should be ascribed to the successful elections, it is the results of the voting that will determine the political coalitions and constellations. Those coalitions will determine the nature of Iraqi democracy: how much freedom of speech an Iraqi citizen enjoys, what the rights of women and of ethnic and religious minorities will be - and, no less important, how the country's foreign policy will be forged.

There was no need for elections to know that the Shi'ite majority would run Iraq. But will it be a secular Shi'ite majority headed by Dr. Iyad Allawi, the current prime minister, or the religious Shi'ites, whose leader is Abdul Aziz Alhakim? Will the Kurds agree to give up their demand for a federative regime in which their district is run independently, and will they go with whomever promises them more control over Kirkuk, which has become the flammable focus of Kurdish rivalries?

The 275 parliamentarians elected yesterday will have to provide an answer to these questions very soon, after it becomes evident who won and who will be the president and prime minister. It's not merely a matter of ministerial portfolios and jobs. The important task of framing a constitution is at stake. Two important obstacles face the the framers: one involves the Kurdish veto over any change to the current, temporary constitution, and the second, the role of religion as a source of constitutional authority (according to the current, temporary constitution the sharia - Islamic law - is only one of the sources of authority of the constitution).

Both amendments are opposed by the Kurds, who don't regard themselves as part of the Arab or Iraqi religious fabric. Subjecting the Kurdish district to Baghdad's rule, an issue that was not solved under the current regime, will therefore be a major issue for the next government.

The success of the elections can largely be attributed to the determination of the religious Shi'ite leadership, headed by Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to organize and hold them, and the political preparations he made to advance his goals. Sistani, who was largely responsible for putting down the rebellion of Shi'ite isolationist Muqtada al-Sadr, opposes the establishment of a religious state along the lines of Iran, where the religious leader is also the political leader. But he won't concede the role of religion as an integral part of legislation, with a much more comprehensive scope than that existing according to the temporary constitution. That could have an impact on the relationship between the new government and parliament with the Kurds and the Sunni minority, which anyway feels it got the short end of the stick and won't have any influence over political life in the country.

The government's relationship with the Kurds, which will be part of the Iraqi parliament and the new government that is formed, will also have to deal with the fears of the other countries in the region with Kurdish minorities - Turkey and Iran. Any move by the Iraqi government to allow an independent Kurdish district, or even a federative government in Iraq, will encounter Turkish and Iranian opposition that could affect the new government's ability to consolidate its powers. Iran is already suspected of fomenting subversive activity in Iraq to create a political base there, while Turkey could hurt Kurdish trade that passes through it, thus creating another friction point.


Sunnary of attacks on election day
Al Jazeera

The Independent Iraqi Election Commission has set up 5500 polling centres around the country to offer Iraqi people the chance to vote, but election day has been marred by bombs and mortar attacks.

The latest figures indicate at least 41 people have died in attacks throughout Iraq.

Iraqi voter turnout lowered
Al Jazeera

Iraqi journalist Ziyad al-Samarrai told Aljazeera on Monday that voter turnout in Baghdad was poor, especially in the al-Yarmuk, al-Amiriya, and al-Adhamiya districts - the main population centres in central and western Baghdad.

The Independent Election Commission of Iraq (IECI) said on Sunday its initial tally of 72% had been little more than a guess based on local estimates.

The panel has since revised the estimated turnout at 60% to 75%.

On the other hand, the International Organisation for Migration said on Monday nearly 94% of Iraqi expatriates who had registered to vote outside Iraq took part in the elections.

Iraqis Await Poll Results
Islam Online

Voters created an almost festive atmosphere in Shiite areas and the northern regions where Kurds are looking to the vote to enshrine their autonomous rule. But mast Sunnis stayed home.

A Shiite alliance formed under the guidance of top scholar Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani was almost certain to win the most votes.

Pundits have warned that the election were all but certain to bring Shiites to power, risking alienation of Sunnis and fomenting sectarian strife.

In Samarra, streets were largely deserted and fewer than 1,400 ballots were cast by a population of 200,000.

"Nobody came. People were too afraid," said Madafar Zeki, in charge of a polling centre in the mostly Sunni city.

InMosul, many youths in this predominately Sunni city were busy kicking or carrying a ball for a fervent soccer match instead of casting their ballots.

Amid boycott calls from leading Sunni powers and scenes of deserted bullet-scarred polling stations, the majority of the city's population did not demonstrate any enthusiasm for the vote.

Pan Arabian

Historic election in Iraq,
participation of voters varied by region

Arabic News

The commission decreased the expected rate stated before on the volume of the Iraqis who would took part in the elections. Its stressed by its chief Fred Ayar that the current estimates indicate that actual rates might not exceed 60% of the Iraqis who are eligible to voting, and not 72% as announced earlier. Certain Iraqi cities and governorates witnessed a high turnout for voting. The ballot centers in the Kurdish cities to the north of the country witnessed a great turnout since the early hours of the day on Sunday. Observers said that the turnout for the ballot centers in the southern governorates where the Shiite majority live had witnessed tangible progress.

On the contrary the central areas in Iraq, where the Sunni majority live witnessed a weak turnout. News reports and information from the governorates of al-Anbar, Salah Eddine and Deyali said that most of the ballot centers there were empty of voters and elections officials, alike.

Only one ballot center was opened in Samera and voting was almost nonexistent in the two cities of al-Ramadi and Tikrit.

Arab states fear Iraq poll aftermath
Middle East Online

Sunni Arab states fear the emergence of a hostile Shiite government in Iraq after the first free elections there in 50 years that may also add pressure on them to introduce their own political reforms.

"Victory for Sistani," the Cairo daily Nahdat Misr headlined Monday, referring to the Iran-born Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who engineered a joint list that is widely expected to win power for Iraq's long oppressed majority community.

Cairo University law professor Mohammed Nur Farhat asked if there had not been "an understanding, even partial, between the United States and Iran," paving the way for the Shiites' expected rise to power for the first time in an Arab state in 11 centuries.


Iraqi interim PM: "Terrorists cannot win"
Al Bawabwa

In his first news conference since the elections, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi called on Iraqis to join together to re-build the Iraqi society.

"The terrorists now know that they cannot win," he said. "We are entering a new era of our history and all Iraqis - whether they voted or not - should stand side by side to build their future." He promised to work to ensure that "the voice of all Iraqis is present in the coming government."

Saudi Arabia

Iraqis Brave Bombs to Vote
Arab News

BAGHDAD, 31 January 2005 — Iraqis braved bombs and voted in their millions in Iraq's first free election in half a century yesterday. Insurgents made good their promise of turning the election into a bloodbath. Nine of their suicide bombers killed at least 35 people.

Women in abayas whispered prayers at the sound of a nearby explosion as they waited to vote at one Baghdad polling station. But the mood elsewhere was triumphant, with long lines in many places in the city: civilians and policemen danced with joy outside one site, and some streets were packed with voters walking shoulder-to-shoulder toward polling centers.

"This is democracy," said Karfia Abbasi, holding up a thumb stained with purple ink to prove she had voted.

Poll Draws Mixed Reaction
Arab News

RIYADH/JEDDAH, 31 January 2005 — Reaction of Saudi academics and businessmen to Iraq's first free election in 50 years yesterday was mixed, with some saying the poll was deeply flawed and would give democracy a bad name. Others voiced support for the election, saying the move to hold election in itself was important though the timing and mechanics were flawed. They said that internal violence and the poor showing of Sunnis at the polls undermined it.

Dr. Fauzia Al-Bakr, a professor at King Saud University (KSU), welcomed the elections saying: "The poll is a positive move, but the Arabs have been largely dissatisfied with the whole exercise because of violence, the continued occupation and sectarian reasons." Al-Bakr said some Sunni groups had boycotted the election, saying it cannot be free and fair because of the US military presence and daily bloodshed in the Sunni heartlands of the war-torn country.


In Jeddah, Saudis and Arab expatriates welcomed the Iraqi election, describing the 60 percent voter turnout as a success for the democratic process. They felt that the fact that Iraqis turned out in force defying terrorist threats showed that they were keen on a new democratic deal.

"This will usher in a new era, as Iraqis are deciding on their own future in defiance of insurgents," said Waleed Al-Ghamdi, a Saudi businessman and member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce & Industry. "Once a democratically elected government assumes office and chalks out a program of rehabilitation and development, the entire Arab world can benefit from the implementation of various projects."

"It's something good that has happened to Iraq and its people and hopefully will bring peace to the region," said Waleed Karanouh, a Lebanese PR and media consultant. "After, all Iraq is part of the Arab world and whatever happens in that country has its ramifications in other parts of the region."


Al Qaeda vows to fight on in Iraq
Times of Oman

BAGHDAD — Al Qaeda vowed to pursue "holy war" in Iraq yesterday after failing to wreck a historic election in which millions of people flocked to the polls.

Al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq slammed the election, which was hailed around the world as a success, denouncing it as an American game.

"We in the Al Qaeda Organisation for Holy War in Iraq will continue the jihad until the banner of Islam flutters over Iraq," said the statement posted on a website.

United Arab Emirates

Iraqis defy terror to cast votes
Gulf News

Baghdad: Voters turned out in surprisingly high numbers yesterday for Iraq's first free election in half a century, defying insurgents who unleashed suicide bombers and mortar attacks that killed at least 37 people.

Rebels wearing belts packed with explosives targeted polling stations and even the home of a minister to try to wreck the election that took Iraq a further step away from the legacy of Saddam Hussain.

Amid estimates from Iraqi officials and foreign observers of a strong turnout amid a massive security clampdown nationwide, the United States and the Iraqi government declared the election had been a success despite the killings.

US President George W. Bush promised that Washington would continue trying to prepare Iraqis to secure their own country.

"The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the centre of the Middle East," Bush told reporters at the White House four hours after the polls closed.

He praised the bravery of Iraqis who turned out to vote despite continuing violence and intimidation.

Bush said they "firmly rejected the antidemocratic ideology" of terrorists.

Allawi urges unity; warns insurgency not over
Khaleej Times (via Reuters)

Allawi, a contender to be renamed prime minister, is keen to build popular support after a poll in which election officials estimate eight million Iraqis voted, confounding predictions many would be scared away by insurgent threats of a bloodbath.

Yet while the election day onslaught of suicide bombers and mortars was less bloody than expected, Allawi warned the insurgency was far from over.

"There will be violence," he said, but added: "The terrorists know they cannot win.

""The whole world is watching us. As we worked together yesterday to finish dictatorship, let us work together towards a bright future -- Sunnis and Shi'ites, Muslims and Christians, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen," he said.


Voters defy bombs
Gulf Daily News

BAGHDAD: Millions of Iraqis flocked to vote in a historic election yesterday, defying insurgents who killed 37 people in a bloody assault on the poll.

Voters, some ululating with joy, others hiding their faces in fear, cast ballots in higher-than-expected numbers in Iraq's first multi-party election in half a century.

Samir Hassan, 32, who lost his leg in a car bomb blast last year, said as he waited to vote in Baghdad: "I would have crawled here if I had to. I don't want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me."


Allawi urges rival Iraqi groups to unite
The Daily Star

Allawi, a contender to be renamed prime minister, is keen to build popular support after a poll in which election officials estimate eight million Iraqis voted, confounding predictions many would be scared away by insurgent threats of a blood bath.

Yet while the election day onslaught of suicide bombers and mortars was less bloody than expected, Allawi warned the insurgency was far from over.

"There will be violence," he said, but added: "The terrorists know they cannot win. The whole world is watching us. As we worked together yesterday to finish dictatorship, let us work together towards a bright future - Sunnis and Shiites, Muslims and Christians, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen."

Confirming Allawi's warnings, Al-Qaeda's group in Iraq vowed on Monday to continue its "holy war," slamming historic elections seen as a success by the U.S.-allied government as an "American game," according to an Internet statement.


Upbeat about election,
Iran hopes Iraq occupation ends soon

Tehran Times

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi also on Monday congratulated his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari on the successful holding of elections.

In his message, Kharrazi said the elections showed the political maturity of the people and it was a great step toward the democratization of Iraq.

The Iranian minister expressed hope that the historic election would help strengthen the relations between the two nations of Iran and Iraq and help secure the region without the presence of foreign forces.

"The elections would never have been possible without the power of the clergy and the religious authorities" who urged Iraqi people to participate in elections, said the Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

"Today, the Iraqis must protect their vote and make sure not to allow fraud" that would deny the Shiites their victory in Sunday's elections, said Rafsanjani.

Iraq elections turnout considerable
IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting)

The majority Shiite community and Kurds concentrated in the north had been predicted to vote in high numbers in one of the most dangerous and controversial elections of modern times. But the election commission said even among Sunni Arabs -- who were the ruling elite under Saddam and all previous Iraqi governments -- turnout was higher than expected despite boycott calls from clerics and politicians.

The government sealed frontiers, closed Baghdad international airport and imposed a night-time curfew during the poll. Vehicle traffic near polling stations was also banned. Despite the measures, Iraq's government said 36 people were killed and almost 100 wounded Sunday. About nine suicide bombers also died, officials said.

A group that organised 10,000 independent observers said fraud had been limited. "In general the elections went ahead in an excellent way and there was very little fraud or violations," a spokesman for the Ain (eye) non-governmental organisation said.

Iraqis must control their destiny:UN
IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting)

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Iraqis must be encouraged to take control of their own destiny as voters cast ballots in Sunday's historic elections in the country.

"The Iraqis who turned out today are courageous, they know that they are voting for the future of their country," Annan told a press conference at an African Union summit in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

"We must encourage them and support them to take control of their destiny," he said in remarks in French.