Tuesday, February 03, 2009

And the spinning of provincial elections begins

In this morning's New York Times, Sam Dagher and Steven Lee Myers offer "Iraqi Voters in Vastly Different Cities Share Desire for a Strong Central State" which examines the preliminary results in Basra and Mosul and argues Basra is a huge victory for puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki (no, he wasn't a candidate in the provincial elections -- he did want to make the election all about himself and how nice of two foreign reporters to curry favor with the p.m.) because it shows a strong desire for al-Maliki's type-slaughters (spring 2008's assault on Basra). Golly, with such low turnout in Basra it's amazing that anyone wants to read the results as an endorsement of anything. The results read like a rejection of the so-called government on every level.

And if you lived in Basra when it was under assault maybe you'd take the attitude of "I'm not voting" as well? Your local government didn't protect you when al-Maliki and thugs rolled into town. One level of government assaulted you and the other stood by. Why bother to vote?

That actually seems closer to the truth on what the turnout indicates about the feelings of Iraqis in Basra. Now maybe it's too much truth to offer? Maybe we're too busy trying to spin 'democracy' in Iraq to tell the truth? Or maybe some people need to admit they don't know the first thing about political science?

Based on the preliminary turnout, what can be argued about Basra can be argued about the bulk of Iraq which is why turnout was so low. 26% more registered voters voted in 2005 than voted on Saturday. It would be better to wait for the full results; however, when non-poli sci majors are hitting the ground running in an attempt to spin the election results, I'm not going to sit it out. You expect that spin cycle in the US politics with all the gas bag shows. However, with so few even paying attention to Iraq these days (so few in the US), you'd think news outlets that do cover it could back off from making snap judgments on preliminary results (or, more likely, repeating US official spin of preliminary results).

Voter turnout was down 26% across the country. The message is pretty clear and it's not to be found in "This was a vote of support for al-Maliki."

The voter turnout -- if the figures hold -- is a vote of disgust and distrust with the government on every level including their incumbent representatives on a local level.

It's hilarious to read statements such as: "In choosing Mr. Maliki, many in the south seemed willing to sacrifice more local considerations like patronage." A) Basra was assaulted and the local government did nothing to protect it. Yes, you will find some people who support the assault -- and you can even quote him as the paper does -- but the bulk of the people did not approve (as was obvious at the time and is obvious in the voter turnout). That's why they stayed home. As for 'patronage,' al-Maliki went around the country promising everything or are we supposed to forget his multiple attempts at bribery via promises regarding local services all the way up to 'The US is leaving Iraq in less than 16 months! It is so, it is true! Because I, al-Maliki, say it!'? al-Maliki didn't play the patronage game?

Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) begs to differ

If Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party proves victorious in Najaf province, the spiritual capital of Shiite Islam, the graying patriarch will have played a key role. The tribal leader, who claims 80,000 adherents, functions in a manner similar to that of an old-fashioned ward boss in the U.S., delivering his district's vote to his party.
"The prime minister became the right man to protect the Iraqi state," Issawi told The Times on a visit to his home. "He is a strong man, courageous and a son of the tribes."
Issawi is one of several leading Shiite sheiks with whom Maliki has curried favor. The prime minister has sought to boost his party, which favors a strong central government, over another Shiite faction, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which supports a semiautonomous Shiite Muslim region in the south.
Maliki has named Issawi to head a local tribal body funded by his office, and appointed one of the sheik's sons to a job in Baghdad. He has summoned Issawi to conferences in the capital city, where he has listened to his ideas for the nation's future. Observers say that if Maliki wins a large share of provincial council seats in the oil-rich southern provinces, it is in large part because of his diligent wooing of men like Issawi.

al-Maliki attempted that in every province. Note the last observation "Observers say that if Maliki wins a large share of provincial council seats in the oil-rich southern provinces, it is in large part because of his diligent wooing of men like Issawi." Basra recently attempted to become it's own federation, like the KRG in the north. The effort failed. Let's note CNN's first sentence when reporting on that, "A drive to boost the political and economic power of Iraq's oil-rich southern province of Basra has failed, Iraqi election officials said Wednesday." Oil-rich? Check. Southern province? Check. Ned Parker one more time, "Observers say that if Maliki wins a large share of provincial council seats in the oil-rich southern provinces, it is in large part because of his diligent wooing of men like Issawi."

Saturday, the US Embassy in Iraq released this joint-statement from US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and the top US commander in Iraq Gen Ray Odierno:

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the Multi-National Force – Iraq congratulate the Iraqi people on holding provincial elections today. Voter turnout was large. Iraqi security forces successfully protected millions of Iraqis and enabled them to express their opinions freely in fourteen of Iraq’s governorates.

We congratulate the Iraqi authorities, their security forces and the Iraqi election commission for their careful preparation and administration of these elections.

These elections mark a significant milestone for the people of Iraq, and are a major step forward in Iraq’s democratic development.

On the KRG, the Kurdistan Regional Government, they issued a statement yesterday:

President Barzani to Kirkuk's Arab representatives: Kirkuk must become an example for co-existence and tolerance

Erbil, Kurdistan - Iraq (KRP.org) - Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani met a number of Arab officials and Arab tribal leaders from Kirkuk and surrounding areas to look for ways to ease tensions and remove any misunderstandings between the different communities in the city.

Rakan Saeed Al-Joboori, the deputy governor of Kirkuk, described this meeting as a golden opportunity for mutual understanding and to find solutions to the problems that exist in Kirkuk. "We need to work toward obtaining consensus among all the different ethnic and religious communities of Kirkuk," said Al-Joboori.

The deputy governor, and several other members of the delegation, also called for the implementation of a power-sharing formula for the administration of Kirkuk. They hoped that with more dialogue and engagement, as well as the implementation of the Iraqi constitution, all problems in Kirkuk can be resolved.

President Masoud Barzani thanked the delegation for their comments and suggestions. He described the meeting as "very important" and said that he is fully behind the pledges that they have received from Iraqi President Talabani.

President Talabani recently visited Kirkuk and held extended meetings with different communities in the city. He had vowed to work for a power-sharing solution for the administration of Kirkuk.

Later in the meeting, President Barzani noted that a solution to Kirkuk will be a key to the resolution of many other outstanding issues.

"Kirkuk has been the main sticking point between us and successive Iraqi governments. Kirkuk must become an example for the rest of Iraq for co-existence and tolerance. Preserving fraternity between Arabs and Kurds is a principle that we will never forget" said President Barzani.

President Barzani also said that it is neither his policy nor President Talabani's policy to marginalise or sideline any community. Certain calls for the expelling of Kurds have been the main source of tensions in Kirkuk, the President said.

"We have all witnessed the fate of one-party rule in Iraq. We believe that in a country that is made up of several communities, a federal system is the best solution. " the President continued. He called for the opening of a new chapter and said "let us resolve our differences based on the Constitution and Article 140."

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