Final results in the Iraqi elections, held March 7, won’t be announced until Friday at the earliest. And even then, the vote count is likely to be disputed by nearly everyone, with Prime Minister Maliki issuing veiled threats that he won’t relinquish the reins of power no matter the result. But with 95 percent of the vote counted, Maliki is locked in a dead heat with the Sunni-backed, nationalist bloc, the Iraqi Nationalist Movement, led by former Prime Minister Allawi, a secular Shiite. Both Maliki and Allawi are expected to win about 90 seats each in the 325-member parliament.
The best reporting on the Iraqi elections and their aftermath continues to come from Reidar Visser, a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, whose invaluable blog provides regular updates on the politics of Iraq.
Today, however, I want to focus on the fortunes of the Great de-Baathification Machine, namely, Ahmed Chalabi and Ali al-Lami, whose provocative purge of more than 500 candidates — nearly all of whom were associated with anti-Iran and secular, nationalist movements — polarized Iraq in the weeks before the vote. (Those who’ve seen “The Green Zone,” the thriller starring Matt Damon, saw Chalabi’s role as an exile who lied about Iraq’s weapons program portrayed beautifully.)
Among other things, it appears as if the anti-Baath purge boosted Sunni turnout and turned more moderate Shiite voters away from, rather than toward, Chalabi, Lami, and the Shiite religious coalition that they created.
Lami, who was Chalabi’s ally and head of the Justice and Accountability Commission, got only about 900 votes in the election, according to Visser’s count, meaning that he likely won’t be elected to parliament. Chalabi, who ran as a stalwart — indeed, the organizer — of the Iranian-backed Iraqi National Alliance, the Shiite coalition of religious parties, will take a seat in the next parliament. As Visser reports, the INA — which included the former Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Sadrists, and other Shiite parties — won 16 seats in Baghdad province, and among them Chalabi finished ninth.
As readers of this space know, I’ve been excoriating US neoconservatives who gleefully embraced Chalabi in the 1990s and who backed him in 2002-2003 during their headlong rush to war in Iraq. Since then, of course, Chalabi has come out of the closet as an agent of influence for Iran, and he worked closely with Iran’s leaders in 2009 to assemble the INA. In February, in response to my question, General Odierno virtually accused Chalabi of being an Iranian tool. Among the neocons closest to Chalabi was Michael Rubin of the neocon-infested American Enterprise Institute.
In that light, an interesting debate has erupted among neocons over the Chalabi factor.
Joshua Muravchik, a former AEI fellow who is now a fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, has written a mea culpa of the first order for World Affairs, in which he apologizes for having gotten into bed with Chalabi two decades ago: