Final results of the Iraqi elections may, or may not, be released Friday. Of course, that will be the beginning, not the end, of the post-election crisis in Iraq.
Despite the trumpeting of democracy by US defenders of the war, sadly nearly all Iraqis voted along communal lines. Kurds voted for Kurds; Shiites either for Prime Minister Maliki or, worse, for the radical-right, Iran-backed Shiite alliance; and Sunnis (and a handful of secular Shiites, especially in Baghdad) voted for the cross-sectarian Iraqi Nationalist Movement of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Maliki had tried to appeal to Sunnis, but his hysterical, pre-election, anti-Baathist posturing — in the wake of the purge of hundreds of alleged Baathists, secularists, and anti-Iran candidates by Ahmed Chalabi’s commission — resulted in Maliki getting virtually zero Sunni support. Allawi, a secular Shiite, tried to appeal across the sectarian divide, but it seems that few Shiites voted for his bloc, especially in the southern provinces.
Though final results aren’t in yet, it appears that Allawi may have pulled off a stunning upset, winning the popular vote by a tiny margin and, possibly, winning more seats than Maliki. Both Allawi and Maliki are expected to gain about 90 seats in the 325-member national assembly, while the Kurds will have something like 50 and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), the Shiite religious bloc will get perhaps 70. (In that latter bloc are Muqtada al-Sadr, the wily, radical cleric who’s lately fallen under Iranian influence; the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which is an Iranian front; Chalabi; and a bunch of other Shiite-sectarian parties, including ISCI’s Badr Brigade, a paramilitary group. The INA was literally assembled in Iran, with Iranian support, during 2009.)
Maliki and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd — both of whom fared less well than they’d hoped — are calling for a recount. According to Iraqi sources, Maliki is charging that the United States rigged the election software to favor Allawi during the counting, which is a ridiculous and inflammatory charge. He wants a hand recount. His authoritarian instincts and paranoid political style are becoming clearer: In a chilling message to Iraq’s election overseers, Maliki all but threatened to use the armed forces to maintain his continued rule. Reportedly, US military forces in Iraq discreetly watched ballot storage centers in case Maliki ordered the army to seize them. Jawad Bolani, Iraq’s interior minister, expressed fears that the prime minister might declare a state of emergency to preempt the political process. And, speaking of Maliki’s opponents, Saad al-Muttalibi, a leader of Maliki’s party, told Al Jazeera: “If these people do not understand politics, they should go home. I am afraid Iraq will go down in a very violent way.”
So what now? Anything can happen. Iraqi politics is like a Rubik’s Cube in which any twist or turn makes progress in one way but causes more problems on the other side of the cube. The best outcome for Iraq would be if Allawi were to gain a plurality and try to form a coalition. But there are many, many combinations.