Talisman Gate

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Results Are In

Copyright 2005 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
All Rights Reserved
The New York Sun

February 17, 2005 Thursday


LENGTH: 1298 words

HEADLINE: The Results Are In

BYLINE: Nibras Kazimi


The good news: we are not getting an Islamic theocracy in Iraq. The bad news, well, there is none. The results of the Iraqi elections were announced Sunday, and I did what every self-respecting obsessive election-watcher does: get out the calculator. Many hours later, and with the full list of the 275 members of the newly elected National Assembly or parliament before me, I have the following breakdown to report:

Gender politics: The Transitional Administrative Law, which was drawn up by the former Iraqi Governing Council to regulate a period of interim sovereignty that lasted from July of last year, when the coalition occupation was declared over, to last January's election, stipulated that no less than 25% of the seats in the new parliament should be reserved for women. The slates that competed in these elections had to be formulated in such a way to give women that minimum quota, and as a result there will be 85 of them (or a whopping 31%) in this new legislative body. I don't think this has happened anywhere in the world, and I dare the experts or the Women's Lib movement to prove otherwise. More women than men voted in these globally landmark elections and there are more women represented in Iraq's new parliament than any elected body on Mother Earth. Oprah, Hillary, would you care to say something?

The new democracy in Iraq shall have founding fathers, and founding mothers. This, coupled with the emancipation of women from the non-pedicured clutches of the Taliban, should compel the bra-burning crowd to send gushy Valentine's cards to President Bush. Somehow, I think that Maureen Dowd, the self-appointed maiden of punditry, is not going to understand the magnitude of what just happened. But I'm sure women in Saudi Arabia do.

Communal politics: The Arab Sunnis got 24 seats (9%), the Kurds got 74 seats (27%), the Christians got eight seats (3%), the Turkomen got five seats (2%) and the Yezidis, an obscure religion sometimes labeled as ancient "Devil-Worshippers," got two seats (1%).

Everyone who wanted the elections to be delayed, and the list included the New York Times editorial page and plenty of Arab dictators, was worried sick about Sunni Arab alienation from the elections that, according to their reasoning, would leave them with no option other than waging civil war. These folks should be feeling as small and foolish as the Sunni Arab leadership, because their reasoning was upside down. The current insurgency is an undeclared civil war waged by the Arab Sunnis of Iraq who hope to reclaim the absolute power they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein, and the only reason there was no massive outbreak of communal strife is due to the fact that the Sunnis could not find a partner for their macabre and tangled tango. Saddam's victims, predominately the Shias and the Kurds, waited for the ballot boxes as their response to Sunni provocation. Now, the real leaders of the Arab Sunnis who were fanning the flames of the insurgency (not the ones roused from retirement by Foggy Bottom like Pachachi, who couldn't even manage to get a seat) are sheepishly asking to be allowed to play with all the others on the playground of parliamentary politics.

For the first time in the Middle East, the use of politically motivated violence as a means of getting recognized and earning a seat at the table, as employed by Yasser Arafat and other Arab dictators, has failed miserably and conclusively. Elections were the wake-up call for Iraq's Sunnis, not the beginning of the end.

The Kurds, who for the past 80 years of Iraq's existence fought valiantly to exit the "Iraqi arrangement" and opt for independence, are coming around to the idea that maybe, for the time being, a federal Iraq is an option they can live with. Thousands of Kurdish nationalists uttered "Long Live Kurdistan" as their last words before a horrible death at the hands of an Iraqi state that forcibly tried to keep the country unified. Last Sunday, millions of Kurds went to the polls to vote as Iraqis as part of a compromise with the ghosts of national destiny. For much of Iraq's history, there was a de facto civil war that ended up murdering hundreds of thousands of Kurds. These election results had the effect of binding a segment of the population, as numerous as the Arab Sunnis, to the idea of a unified Iraq, and ending the longest running civil war in the Middle East. How come no one at the New York Times editorial board is celebrating this outcome?

Ideological politics: The United Alliance List, peddled as the "Islamic Revolution Lite" list, walked away with an astounding 140 seats, the largest single block. The fad these days is for journalists and anti-Bush pundits to raise their brows in feigned horror and yell, "We have created an Islamic Frankenstein!"

Rest at ease: As usual it is a case of mistaken identity. Although the first name on the UAI list is a mullah, the majority of those who got elected from this particular slate are secular leaning academics and technocrats. At least one likes to drink alcohol more than is good for him. By my count, there are fewer than 30 party affiliates, and the bulk are unknown independents. Those reporters in Baghdad should be forgiven for all that alarmist drivel, for they had not met any of those new leaders of Iraq at political rallies or press conferences and thus don't know where they stand on issues. The new faces of Iraq's democracy were busy giving literary lectures, treating patients, or tending gardens. They are the building blocks of Iraq's nascent civil society, and Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who lovingly put together the UAI list, wanted their views heard amidst the raucous clamoring of political agendas as the constitution is being written, which is the primary role of this elected parliament.

And here's a political prediction to boot: The current law on the books called the Civil Affairs Law of 1959, which covers personal matters such as marriage, inheritance, and divorce, will not be repealed. This law, the most liberal in all of the Islamic world, is the litmus test of the Islamist agenda. The fundamentalists on the UAI list would like to substitute Islamic jurisprudence, or Sharia, as the final arbiter of personal matters. They tried to do just that during their tenure on the Governing Council and failed due to American intervention; they will fail again in the new parliament because they don't have the votes.

Dirty politics: Yes, there was massive vote fraud, some of which was probably managed by the Baghdad station of the Central Intelligence Agency, but that also counts as good news. Massive vote rigging was held in check by massive voter turnout. Yet again, the spooks did not see this one coming: Iraqis voted in very large numbers, and the fraudsters were caught off-guard when they realized that their made-to-order ballots were not enough to tip the balance in favor of their well-financed candidates. Two lists that had covertly pocketed tens of millions of American taxpayer money among themselves over the years did not even manage to get a single seat. Prime Minister Allawi, who poured tens of millions of dollars into an all-out ad campaign that marketed his "can-do" prowess, did fairly well, but still not enough to keep him politically relevant.

So there you have it: a real election with real results. None of that "the Great Leader won a landslide with 99.9% of the votes" business. Politics, in all its many high and low gradations, has been reintroduced into Iraq, and these elected representatives of the people are about to chart a new course for their nation. Iraqis are now fully in charge of their country's destiny, for better or worse. And should they stumble or fail, the Iraqi people will vote them out, and my calculator will be dusted off yet again.