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April 07, 2005

Iraqis Get New President

Comparing media coverage of the election of Jalal Talabani was a fascinating exercise. The LA Times notes that the choice reflects both Kurdish political influence and some sophisticated deal-making:

A Kurdish president would have been unthinkable two years ago and was considered a longshot before the elections two months ago. But Kurds, who represent about 15%-20% of the Iraqi population, won about one-quarter of the 275 assembly seats in the Jan. 30 balloting.

Wednesday's election of Talabani, 72, and the two deputies was arranged weeks ago in a deal between the Kurds and the leading Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, which won just more than half of the assembly seats. But the final announcement was delayed because of a dispute among Sunni Arabs over who should be named one of the vice presidents.

With the new government set to take over as early as today, it remains unclear what role interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose slate won 40 seats, will play. Though his secular Shiite slate won about 40 seats, Allawi was not offered a top post in the new government. He has skipped the last two National Assembly sessions.

Oddly, only three of the accounts I read described Mr. Talabani as a longtime opponent of Saddam Hussein and most glossed over Hussein's attacks on the Kurds, describing them only in the most general terms. Only the New York Times and The Guardian reminded the world of the horrors inflicted on Mr. Talabani's people under Hussein's brutal regime:

As many as 100,000 Kurds were killed in the 1980's in the so-called Anfal campaign, in which senior Hussein officials ordered mass killings and the razing of thousands of villages in the north.

Reaction to Talabani's election was mostly positive, with the exception of one former high official:

Saddam Hussein watched the televised election of Iraq's new president from his jail cell yesterday and was "clearly upset", a senior official said.

Under Saddam the only way Mr Talabani would have left his northern redoubt was in chains or a coffin, but yesterday he arrived in Baghdad in a blaze of triumph.

It was galling viewing for Saddam, according to Bakhtiar Amin, the human rights minister, who said the former dictator had chosen to view the recording of the parliamentary vote.

Saddam's jailers made sure he had access to a TV so he could watch the proceedings:

"According to witnesses, he was unhappy and playing with his beard," said Barham Salih, a Kurdish deputy prime minister in the U.S.-supported interim administration that will end when the new transitional government is seated.

"It seems that it's sinking in that he's no longer president," Salih added.

Hussein, who ratified his rule through periodic elections widely considered to be fraudulent, has maintained in court hearings since his capture in December 2003 that he is still president and is immune from prosecution. "He had that grand illusion," Salih said.

If Hussein was displeased to see Talabani ascend to the largely ceremonial office of president, ordinary Iraqis were loving the drama of their first real election:

"I love that this is democracy -- that up to this moment, we did not know who is going to be president," said Baqer Abdul Nabi, 42, a merchant in a west Baghdad cafe full of men drinking tea and smoking water pipes. When the television broadcast of the assembly session began, customers turned up the volume on the TV set and on their political debate.

"Before, there was no one else but Saddam, so we knew who it was going to be: It was Saddam," Nabi said. "They said he is watching TV now, and he saw what happened today. I am glad that he saw the thing that he did not want to happen."

And though some still sought to cast the choice of a Kurdish president as a negative, many Iraqis reject that reasoning:

"I do not know why they insist on saying Kurd president, Shiite prime minister, Sunni whatever," the man said. "By doing that, they will create a difference that will lead to dividing the country and causing a civil war."

Omar of Iraq the Model comments:

I personally welcome the decision of choosing Mr. Talbani for this position because this step proves again that Iraqis are willing and working hard to bridge the gap between the different components of the Iraqi nation and to overcome the differences and disputes among them.

This new formation of presidency in Iraq will certainly strengthen the unity of this nation and it proves again that Iraq is a home for all Iraqis; not only the Arabs, not only the She'at or any other single race or sect. I would be just as happy if the president was Turkmen or Assyrian or from any other segment of the wide social spectrum of Iraq. It doesn't matter where you come from or what your religion is, if you're good and if the people think you're good, then you can reach the position you deserve. This is the new Iraq and this is how it's going to be from now on, whether the terror-tyranny alliance likes it or not.

But there are still many obstacles to be overcome in forming the new government:

...haggling over who are to be deputy presidents, deputy prime ministers and ministers of defence, interior and finance could produce another stalemate. A cleric-backed alliance representing the long-oppressed majority Shias won a slim majority of seats. Hardliners with Iranian links want an Islamic republic and a purge of former regime loyalists which worries Sunnis.

To secure the premiership for Dr Jaafari [the prime minister] the Shias need a two-thirds majority, which means courting the Kurds, who came second in the election and are in a strong position to win federal status and oil revenues for their northern autonomous region.

Kurds are also pressing to keep Mr Allawi in government. A secular-minded Shia, he has reservations about joining any coalition headed by Dr Jaafari and other Islamists. Kurds say there can be no national unity government without some job for the current prime minister.

The most important task of the assembly will be to draft a permanent constitution, which according to the transitional law should be ready by August 15. The constitution must then be put to a referendum and, if passed, fresh elections will be held by the end of the year.
Quotas kept a third of the seats on the assembly for women, but so far women have been overlooked for the top jobs. "It is disappointing," said Songul Chapuk, an independent Turkoman deputy who has nominated herself for deputy president.

Major points of contention are expected to be who controls the lucrative oil ministry, demands to further de-Baathify the new government (which some see as ethnically-driven), and squabbles over whether the new government should be religious or secular in nature:

The prime minister, whom the presidency council may appoint as soon as Thursday, is expected to be a religious Shiite, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the leader of the Dawa Islamic Party. The Kurds are carefully monitoring any moves by Dawa and other Shiite parties to enshrine shariah, or Koranic law.

Likewise, the Shiites have chafed at demands by Kurdish leaders that the Kurds retain broad autonomous powers, such as maintaining their formidable militia and controlling the vast oil fields around the northern city of Kirkuk.

The two groups failed to come to terms on these issues during the negotiations and agreed to postpone further discussion until the drafting of the constitution.

And some are prediction the contention will lead to a delay in the elections of the full Iraqi government:

Because the talks to form a government have taken so long and have been so contentious, assembly members are already saying they may have to invoke the right to extend a deadline for the first draft of the constitution by up to six months. That would in turn push back the elections for a full-term government.

"I don't see how they can avoid the six-month extension," said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority and advised on the interim constitution.

"Without it, they will have to finish the constitution by mid-August," he said. "But they won't even get down to beginning to deliberate on it probably for another month. Then they need time, as I said, to hold public hearings or at least solicit public opinion and discussion. So I think it is truly inevitable now."

The good news is that, despite infighting in parliament, fatalities elsewhere seem to be on the decline (at least temporarily) since the January elections, not that we would hear this from the lamestream media.


I end with a message of hope from The Mesopotamian:

The fact that our blogging has become less frequent is, in fact, a sign of normalcy beginning to return to our lives. Some time, sooner than people might expect, we shall be talking about things other than the War and Politics.

Regarding the situation here, and despite the horrible news you hear about the massive casualties caused by cowardly and criminal attacks against soft targets like funeral receptions and medical clinics; the terrorists are being rounded up and are really under pressure now. Things are moving in the right direction; albeit painfully and at a high price. We have said it since long time ago; and now they are forced to follow that course; because it is the only wise solution that there is. The Iraqis are the ones who can really clear this matter up. The presence of the American friends and their allies, remains important, but they should keep more and more in the background and provide the technical and material support required to the growing Iraqi forces.

Nobody can deny the considerable successes of the new Iraqi security formations lately, with quite modest equipment and resources. Also the great stir created by the new information policy of exhibiting terrorists and their candid confessions on TV screens. Nowadays, the 9 o’clock daily show of interrogations on “Al-Iraqia” of the thugs and terrorists is absolutely the top favorite of people that is eagerly awaited by everybody.

I hope to find more time to analyze the situation more fully later. Meanwhile, our friends should be reassured that there is a general feeling around here that things are moving in the right direction.

We are not out of the woods yet, but it does begin to seem that things are indeed moving in the right direction.

We have much to be grateful for.

Posted by Cassandra at April 7, 2005 06:10 AM

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Lamestream Media.

I'm gonna steal that term! Oh yes...

Posted by: Ciggy at April 7, 2005 02:51 PM

Something else to keep in mind is that the non-hostile deaths would have occurred if the troops had been stateside, too. In fact, during the active war part of the campaign during the initial invasion, the total hostile deaths were less than the equivalent non-hostile deaths that would have occurred in CONUS if the units had been stateside.

Posted by: Rex at April 7, 2005 03:11 PM

The population would have died off and/or been wounded at higher rates without the invasion too: at the hands of the Muhabarat.

Shredders, anyone?

Posted by: Ciggy at April 7, 2005 09:22 PM

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