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Old 03-01-2010   #15
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International Crisis Group, Iraq’s Uncertain Future: Elections and Beyond, Middle East Report N°94 25 February 2010

As a rule, Iraq’s post-Saddam elections have tended to magnify pre-existing negative trends. The parliamentary polls to be held on 7 March are no exception. The focus on electoral politics is good, no doubt, but the run-up has highlighted deep-seated problems that threaten the fragile recovery: recurring election-related violence; ethnic tensions over Kirkuk; the re-emergence of sectarianism; and blatant political manipulation of state institutions. The most egregious development was the decision to disqualify over 500 candidates, a dangerous, arbitrary step lacking due process, yet endorsed by the Shiite ruling parties. Under normal circumstances, that alone might have sufficed to discredit the elections. But these are not normal circumstances, and for the sake of Iraq’s stability, the elections must go on. At a minimum, however, the international community should ramp up its electoral monitoring and define clear red lines that need to be respected if the results are to be considered legitimate. And it should press the next government to seriously tackle the issue – long-neglected yet never more critical – of national reconciliation.
That leaves what happens after the elections, assuming they pass this threshold. The question then will be whether the incoming government is able and willing to address the country’s numerous political deficiencies, from sectarianism to politicised institutions and much in between. Serious work toward national reconciliation is long overdue. This time, forming a coalition government and holding it up as an example of national unity will not suffice. There will have to be meaningful progress on opening up political space, increasing cross-sectarian participation and improving transparency and accountability.
Rachel Schneller at CFR, Avoiding Elections at Any Cost in Iraq, December 3, 2009

The new election law expands the seats of the governing council from 275 to 323, but Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis dispute the allocation of the forty-eight new seats, saying Shias are overrepresented.
The United States would do well to back away from the policy of elections at any cost. Elections in Iraq do not signify stability. In Iraq, the sequence of events is more important than the chronology of them. That is, the order of constitutional reform, oil law reform, and election law reform is more important than ensuring they occur according to schedule. In this light, the current delays on Iraq's election law are a good sign, because it appears Iraq's Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds are seriously trying to work out a power-sharing arrangement acceptable to all.
Iraq's constitution requires a new government to be in place before existing mandates expire in March 2010, but Iraq's current government is certainly capable of finding a way to legalize a further delay on elections if needed. It is more important to ensure that elections, when they do happen, have the buy-in of all Iraqis, rather than being bound to a timetable that appears, from within the country, to be arbitrary and imposed from the outside. An election that does not have the confidence of all three groups could result in a boycott by one of them, as the Sunnis did in 2005, or in protracted disputes after the election regarding acceptable power-sharing arrangements, which also occurred after the 2005 elections.
Steven Lee Myers at NYT, Vote Seen as Pivotal Test for Both Iraq and Maliki, Published: February 28, 2010

A few months ago, building on genuine if not universal popularity, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki appeared poised to win a second term as Iraq’s prime minister. Now, as Iraqis prepare to vote in parliamentary elections on March 7, his path to another four years in office has become increasingly uncertain, his campaign erratic and, to some, deeply troubling.
Mr. Maliki, who turns 60 in June, could yet prevail. According to politicians and polls conducted by parties and American officials, though not released publicly, Mr. Maliki’s coalition will very likely win the largest plurality of the new Parliament’s 325 seats. But it is unlikely to be anywhere near a majority.
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