ALLAWI AND MALIKI: COMPETING IRAQI LEADERS
As American troops accelerate their withdrawal from Iraq in anticipation of President Obama’s September 1st target date, it is fitting that we pause to overview the men seeking to lead the fledgling democracy that was once Saddam Hussein’s domain.
Iraqi held elections in March, and thousands of candidates ran for placement in the Iraqi parliament’s 325 seats. It was a close race for a parliamentary majority. According to the Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC), US-backed former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi just barely eked out the win, garnering 91 seats in the Iraqi parliament – two more than incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s 89 seats. Since 163 seats are required to constitute a majority and, in turn, a ruling government, Iraqis are holding their collective breath while potentially explosive ethnicity- and religion-based political blocs compete and coalesce to form a majority Iraq can live with.
Prime Minister Al-Maliki, after his ever-tightening and imposing grip on Iraqi civil liberties, will not release his hand easily. He contested the March elections results, demanding a vote recount that first delayed the announcement of a de facto leader for Iraq, and may further delay the nation’s independence from American military by weeks, or even months. While Maliki is upset, top UN Representative in Iraq Ad Melkert, the IHEC, United States Ambassador Christopher R. Hill and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American military commander in Iraq, all attest that the election was notably free of pervasive fraud or error, according to The New York Times.
An increasingly dissatisfied Sunni Arab constituency has been viewing Al-Maliki’s government appointments as divisive, favoring only his own Shiites, and excluding Sunnis from equal participation in their own government. Before the fall of Saddam, Al-Maliki was a religious dissident and political exile who fled Saddam’s regime to live in Syria and Iran. Soon after the parliament selected him as leader of the country in 2006, his fierce campaign to purge the government of Ba’ath party members (real or perceived) with little regard for human rights – including demands for government control of media, civilian arrests, imprisonments and interrogations – painted a picture of a man building yet another Iraqi dictatorship. Plus, he has yet been unable to secure the nation against internal terror.
On the other hand, Al-Maliki’s major competitor, Ayad Allawi, was once viewed as a rather un-Iraqi puppet leader placed by American forces into his role as interim prime minister. Allawi made a bid in the 2005 elections, but despite the support of a varied coalition known as the Iraqi National List, was unsuccessful. In this election, he did draw the votes of disenfranchised Sunnis who had boycotted the 2005 elections. Sunnis are highly unlikely, however, to come to any agreements to work alongside other groups that may be necessary for an Allawi victory, such as the Kurds, or the Iraqi National Alliance Members who support anti-American cleric al-Sadr.
Ayad Allawi was born in 1945 to a wealthy merchant family, a son of a doctor and Iraqi Parliament Member. He attended Baghdad College, an elite Jesuit Catholic High School. He and his first wife, a Catholic daughter to a high-ranking Iraqi military official, separated by mutual agreement. He has spent over half of his life in England as a political exile. Though he studied medicine in Baghdad, he received his MA in England and pursued a career in neurology there. He has survived several organized assassination attempts there and in the Middle East from Hussein operatives, al-Qaeda, and Iraqi militants. His current wife and their children still live in England for their own protection.
During his brief governance in 2004-2005, Allawi demonstrated the ability to make controversial and sometimes unpopular choices that shrewdly included, rather than ostracized, members of other sects and ethnic groups. For instance, when he shut down the Iraqi office of the Arab broadcaster, Al-Jazeera, he appointed a former Ba’athist and Iraqi Intelligence Officer to oversee media regulations. His General Security Directorate was an espionage agency comprised of former Hussein secret police officers assigned to combat Iraqi insurgents and terrorists from within. He also cooperated with American and their allied military operations entering Najaf and Fallujah, an unpopular move that angered the Shia community, many of whom were killed in the battles that ensued.
With this year’s important elections all but over, the Iraqi people are hoping for a cessation in the violence from insurgents who want to create chaos and a vacuum for their opportunism – any weakening of a unified government. Bombings erupted even as the election drew to its conclusion, and much of the world is concerned that the terror will only increase without a firm leader in control.
General Raymond Odierno, in a discussion with Jim Lehrer, reported that US forces are on pace to end combat operations in Iraq by September, but the post-election government transition there is still likely to take several months. He, for one, is hopeful that arrangements will pan out relatively peacefully: “We have worked very hard with the government of Iraq during this caretaker government to try to ensure that security will remain. We have worked very close relationships with all the security elements, the minister of defense, the minister of interior, in order to ensure that safeguards are in place in order to sustain security. And I believe we will be able to do that through this critical period.”
• Allawi’s Iraqiya Bloc Seeks Caretaker To Safeguard Election Results – The Washington Post
• Iraq Begins Baghdad Vote Recount Requested By PM – USA Today
• Allawi Demands Interim Government to End Ã¢ï¿½ï¿½TamperingÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½ – Bloomberg
• IraqÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½s Top Vote-Getter Reaches Out To Rivals – AP
• Allawi Victory in Iraq Sets Up Period of Uncertainty – The New York Times