January 1, 2005 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 201

Iraqi Elections (II): The Launching of the Campaign

January 1, 2005 | By Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli*
Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 201

Amidst intensifying acts of violence and many calls to postpone the elections, preparations for the balloting in Iraq scheduled for January 30 have been proceeding unabated. By the deadline of December 15, 107 lists carrying the names of 7200 candidates for the 275 seats in the National Assembly were submitted and approved by the High Commission for Elections. The lists represent 73 single political parties, 25 independent candidates, and 9 lists of various coalitions or combinations of political parties.

In addition to the lists for the national assembly, 382 lists with 7850 candidates have been submitted for the election of members of the 18 provincial councils (41 members for each council with the exception of Baghdad, which will elect 51 members). Finally, 499 candidates - submitted either on a joint list of the two major Kurdish parties or on a list of one of the 17 smaller Kurdish parties - will be competing for the 111 seats in the Kurdish National Council (independent Kurdish parliament). [1] A chart illustrating the election process in Iraq is attached as an annex.

The U.N. Secretary General's special representative to Iraq, Ashraf Kadi, has declared that the logistical arrangements necessary for conducting credible Iraqi elections on January 30 are in place. However, unlike the cases of Afghanistan and East Timor where the United Nations ran the elections, in Iraq the responsibility for running the elections rests with the country's High Commission for Elections. [2]

The Lists of Candidates

Under the proportional representation system which was introduced to Iraq by the United Nations, the country will be treated as a single constituency, and each voter will cast one vote either for one of the twenty-five independent candidates or for a list representing one or more parties. While vigorous competition is expected during the elections, realistically only a few lists, in particular the Iraqi National Alliance list brokered by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the two joint Kurdish lists, and the list of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi are expected to win a substantial number of seats in the national assembly. For the others, success, if any, will be limited to the top tier of the list. The following is a review of the major lists:

(1) The Iraqi National Alliance

By all accounts, the most important list of candidates is the Iraqi National Alliance. The list, primarily representing the Shi'ite majority and fashioned in consultation with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, offers 228 candidates divided equally between representatives of major Shi'ite political parties and independent candidates who are mainly Shi'ite, but include Sunnis, Failis (Kurdish Shi'ites), Turkmen, and Yazdis (another Kurdish splinter group).

The political parties represented on the list are the Islamic Da'wa Party, headed by Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, interim Vice President of Iraq; the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), headed by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, who also heads the national alliance list; and the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Dr. Ahmad Chalabi. A less significant party is Hizbullah, headed by Abd al-Karim al-Mahmadawi. A significant independent candidate on the list is Dr. Hussein Shahristani, who put the list together in consultation with Sistani. Shahristani, a former nuclear physicist who refused to be co-opted into Saddam's weapons program and was subsequently imprisoned, is considered a likely candidate to be the next prime minister of Iraq, a post he had turned down when it was offered to him by Ambassador Paul Bremer when the interim government was constituted. While the list represents a broad segment of the Iraqi society, there is little that it has offered in terms of its political program and how it might restore stability to the country. Noticed for his absence from the list is Muqtada al-Sadr, who has refused to offer his support for the National Alliance. [3]

(2) The Kurdish List

The second most significant list is that of the two key Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party headed by Mas'oud Barazani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan headed by Jalal Talabani. This is the first attempt by the two Kurdish parties to campaign jointly both for the National Assembly and for the autonomous parliament of Kurdistan. In launching their joint list, Barazani declared that it was "an historic agreement" that would protect the rights of the Kurdish people and help to build "a united federal democratic Iraq." The Kurds are clearly concerned that the election of a majority Shi'ite members of the national assembly might frustrate their expectations for a federation and, more significantly, their demand for the inclusion of the oil rich city of Kirkuk into such a federation. At the moment the status of Kirkuk is uncertain as Arabs and Turkmen demand that it remains outside any future Kurdish autonomous region. The Kurds are also concerned that the list of the Iraqi National Alliance has been able to attract the Turkmen who make up a substantial percentage of the population of Kirkuk and who are determined to prevent the city from falling under Kurdish control. The Kurds have also lost the al-Shammar tribe in the north, President's al-Yawer's tribe, which has deserted the president and the Kurds and opted to go with the Alliance. Under the present political constellation, the only remaining natural allies of the Kurds are the Communists and the Iraqi Islamic Party. [4]

(3) The Iraqis (al-Iraqiyoon)

The Iraqi list "al-Iraqiyoon" was submitted by al-Wifaq al-Watani (the National Accord Party), headed by the interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. It comprises members of his party as well as other political parties, tribal figures, and independents. The list includes the Movement of Democratic Iraqis which is headed by Qassim Daoud, the Minister for National Security. In terms of independents, the list includes Hussein al-Sadr, a Shi'ite cleric (uncle of Muqtada al-Sadr); the Sunni tribal chief, Nazzar al-Khaizaran; and the spokesman for Allawi, Tha'ir al-Naqib, the brother of the Minister of Interior Fallah al-Naqib.

The list offers 240 candidates. In announcing the list, interim Prime Minister Allawi offered a broad outline of political, economic and social program. He emphasized the critical importance of restoring security, including the rebuilding of the army as a precursor for demanding the withdrawal of the multinational forces from "our beloved Iraq." Allawi also highlighted his program for better education, health and welfare. In the economic domain he called for reducing the reliance on one sector (oil) and opening the economy to market forces. [5] In an effort to gain the support of the Ba'thists, Allawi declared that he distinguished between "the criminals of the previous regime and those who had no blood on their hands." He also pledged to fight terrorism and extremism. [6]

(4) The Iraqi (al-Iraqiya)

This list, submitted by the interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, comprises mainly tribal leaders. Clearly, al-Yawer's prospects were dealt a major blow when his uncle, one of the leaders of the Shammar Tribe, the largest tribe in Iraq with both Sunni and Shi'ite elements, opted to go with the "Alliance" list. According to reports in the Iraqi media, there were discussion about the merging of Allawi's and al-Yawer's lists to increase their prospects but negotiations have not been successful because of disagreement regarding which of the two leaders should head the list. [7]

(5) The Iraqi Communist Party

The Iraqi Communist Party, the oldest Communist party in the Arab world, submitted a list of 275 candidates, including 91 women. The list is headed by the secretary general of the party Hamid Majid Moussa. Also on the list is Mufid al-Jaza'iri, the interim minister of culture. [8] That a Communist could serve as interim minister vividly demonstrates the progress Iraq has made in less than two years toward democracy and pluralism.

(6) The Iraqi Islamic Party

Despite the calls by theOrganization of Islamic Scholars (the major Sunni clerical organization) to boycott of the elections, the Iraqi Islamic Party (a Sunni party) under the leadership of Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, a former member of Iraq's Governing Council, submitted a list of 275 candidates. [9] However, this party continues to call for postponing the elections and refuses to say whether it will campaign actively. [10] On December 27, the Islamic Party has announced it was withdrawing from the elections.

Another Sunni party, known as the Islamic Democratic Current, has submitted a list of 60 candidates supposedly representing academics, tribal chiefs and women. [11] No information is available on this group.

(7) The Constitutional Monarchy Movement

The Constitutional Monarchy Movement submitted a list of 275 candidates headed by Sherif Ali bin al-Hussein, the claimant to the Hashemite throne in Iraq. The list will probably appeal to the old generation of Iraqis who were born under the monarchy, saw it destroyed in a bloody coup in 1958, and experienced more than four decades of repression which ensued. However, the monarchy in Iraq was associated with the Sunni domination in government and, before he can ascend the throne, Sherif Ali will need to convince many skeptics that such ascendancy will enhance national unity and equality. His statement that 69% of the Iraqis wish to see the restoration of the monarchy will be put to test soon. [12]

Other Lists

A number of additional parties have presented lists to the High Commission for Elections. The Unity Party joined two other unnamed parties to form the Nasserite Socialist Party (named after Gamal Abd Al-Nasser) which emphasizes Arabism and Islam. A list was submitted by the Liberal Mission Gathering, whose objectives are 'justice, equality and freedom." [13] A list of 63 candidates was submitted by the old secular-liberal Sunni politician, Adnan al-Pachachi, a former foreign minister of Iraq. Although al-Pachachi has submitted a list, he continues to insist that the elections be postponed to allow all segments of the Iraqi society to participate in the drafting of the constitution and has left open his options whether to take part in the elections. Al-Pachachi's own prospects were dimmed by the withdrawal of two key figures on his list, Mahdi al-Hafidh, the minister of planning and Ayham al-Samera'i the minister of electricity, both of whom joined the list of the prime minister. [14] It would seem that the dimmer the prospects of a candidate, the louder the candidate's voice for postponing the elections.

Former army General Najib al-Salhi, secretary-general of "Free Officers and Civilians Movement," submitted a list of 126 candidates, 42 of whom are women and 25 of whom were officers in the former Iraqi armed forces and include Ba'thists who, like al-Salhi himself, left Iraq because of disagreement with Saddam's policies. [15]

The Voters

The High Commission for Elections estimates the number of voters in Iraq at 14 million, this being the number of those who have received food rations coupons distributed following the introduction of the "Oil for Food Program" in 1996. According to the head of the Commission, Abd al-Hussein al-Hindawi the registration of voters for elections has been "amazing." [16]

In addition to those with food coupons, there are Iraqis who left their country in the 1980s and 1990s because of the war with Iran and the aftermath of the occupation of Kuwait. A relatively small minority of these Iraqis have since returned to their country and, upon presenting their passports, will be eligible to vote.

The Iraqis who are still in exile will be allowed to cast their ballots on January 28 through January 30 in their fourteen countries of residence - the United States, Canada, Britain, Holland, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Australian, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. [17] The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was authorized by the Iraqi High Commission for Elections to administer the Out-of-Country Voting Program. Syria appears to be the only country that has announced that it will not allow such elections on its soil. One may infer that although it did not volunteer an explanation for its position, Syria, which appears determined to thwart the emergence of a democratic Iraq, would find it awkward to aid a process of free elections which it denies its own people. [18] By contrast, Iran, with 200,000 Iraqis, has offered to cooperate with Iraq in the election process. [19] The Iranians will most probably see to it that the voters cast their ballots for the Sistani-sponsored list.

Voting Procedures

Voting will spread over ten hours, between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (one minute after sunrise and 33 minutes before sunset). There will be 7000 ballot boxes across Iraq, each guarded by the Iraqi police, the National Guard, and security firms. It is estimated that 103,000 security officers will be guarding the polling stations. The multinational force will stay in the background in order not to be seen as influencing the outcome of the elections. [20]

The order of the lists was established by a lottery in the presence of representatives of political parties. Voters will mark the list of their choice. Each list will carry a three-digit number beginning with 101, insuring equality among the contending lists. Among the leading lists, the Kurdish list has number 130 and the Alliance list has 169.Voters, except in Kurdistan, will cast two ballots: one for the national assembly and one for the provincial government. [21] In Kurdistan, the voters will cast a third ballot for the Kurdish autonomous parliament. Each ballot will be printed in one of three colors. To insure the integrity of the elections, voters will proceed to the voting booth alone, save for the blind and the handicapped, who may be accompanied by one person, [22] and the finger of the voter will be marked with indelible ink. Because the High Commission for Elections has decided that it will be easier to guard stationary ballot boxes than to provide security to 7000 vehicles carrying the ballot boxes to a central location, following the closing of the voting, ballots will be counted at the polling stations in the presence of representatives of the candidates. The results could be known within hours. The votes of overseas Iraqis will be counted in Abu Dhabi. [23]

The Campaign

Given the present security circumstances in Iraq, a Western-style campaign where a candidate can meet his supporters in big public gatherings is all but impossible. Therefore, there will be considerable use of visual and written media to get the message of the candidates across. For the religious parties, both Shi'ite and Sunni, the Friday sermons in mosques will no doubt play a key role in motivating the voters to vote or, for that matter, to abstain from voting.

The biggest blast of the elections was delivered by the interim Minister of Defense, Hazim al-Sha'lan, a Shi'ite himself, running on the list of Prime Minister Allawi. On December 15 Al-Sha'lan criticized the Alliance list as an "Iranian list" and denounced one of its leading members, Dr. Hussein al-Shahristani: "This expert," al-Sha'lan told the press, "worked for two years on the Iranian nuclear programs and today he claims to want to become a prime minister. We will not allow him to do so." [24] The clerics in the Hawza were quick to denounce al-Sha'lan and to declare him biased and hence unsuitable to provide security to the polling stations and protecting the voters. [25] The Iranians chimed in by calling Sha'lan "a political midget." [26] In the meantime, the senior clerics in the Shi'a Hawza are issuing fatwas calling upon their people to participate in the elections as a religious duty. [27] Most Shi'as will take such a fatwa quite seriously. Interviewed by al-Jazeera TV, an old Iraqi lady who may be voting for the first time in her life put it succinctly: "Sistani said to vote; I will vote." [28]

The Communist Party was the first political party to launch its elections campaign. Amidst slogans "Communism is stronger than death and higher than gallows," a reference to the many leaders of the party who were hanged or shot by the various regimes in Iraq for more than 50 years, a large crowd of boisterous supporters gathered in a sports stadium to launch the campaign. The party has adopted the sun as its symbol because "the sun is red." A party official said the launching of the campaign was "a challenge to terrorism and to the enemies of the political process." [29]

The High Commission for Elections has been printing posters and election material for mass distribution. It has also been advertising in newspapers, radio and TV stations to explain the nature and the mechanics of the forthcoming elections.

The Confusion of the Voters

While the multiplication of parties and political groups vying for seats in the national assembly is, in one respect, a healthy sign of political competitiveness which has been missing from the political life of Iraq for more than four decades, there is also a downside to this phenomenon. It confronts the voter with many choices - a difficult situation even for experienced and educated voters, which most Iraqis are not, at least in terms of experience. Following years of oppression, freedom has sprung unencumbered in terms of free press and free association. In the words of Hilla University scholar Farqad al-Husseini al-Qazwini, who is running on the list of the Independent Democratic Gathering of Adnan al-Pachachi, the post-Saddam reality has allowed "every three individuals to form a party, every four individuals to form an organization and every five individuals to form a [political] movement." Quite often nobody knows for sure what any of these groups stands for. [30]

Another person among those polled by the daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat put it thusly: "Under the shadow of the previous regime we were afraid of the government but we opposed it in secret. It is the opposite now. We have become afraid of the opposition which we do not know nor do we know its intentions." [31]


All indications are that the elections will be held as scheduled on January 30 and that there will be heavy participation by many segments of the Iraqi population. However, the elections are not a magic wand that will solve the country's burning security issues and they will not necessarily lead quickly to democratic and stable government. A balanced view of the elections must consider some of the risks involved:

  • Attacks on even a few polling stations on polling day may deter many Iraqis from voting.
  • An abstention of the majority of the Sunni population from voting may create, under the proportional representation system, a lopsided Shi'a majority in the National Assembly which could call into question the legitimacy of the results.
  • The leading list sponsored by Ayatollah al-Sistani heavily represents Shi'ite parties with strong connections to Iran. It is yet to be determined whether these parties, once they gain the majority in the National Assembly, will follow an independent nationalist course or will fall prey to Iranian ambitions and schemes for Iraq.
  • It is too soon to discount the possibility that the Kurds may boycott the elections if their demands to declare Kirkuk as a Kurdish city do not materialize.
  • There are approximately 26 candidates for every seat in the national assembly. One will be elected but 25 will be left out. Likely claims of fraud could undermine the results of the elections.
  • The vast majority of the Iraqi people have never participated in free and competitive elections. It has yet to be established whether the average Iraqi voter has the political maturity to exercise his/her right to vote in a responsible manner.
The El-Salvador Precedent

An editorial in the Iraqi daily Al-Sabah urged the Iraqis to vote despite the dangers of terrorism. It reminded them of the experience in El-Salvador in 1982 when that country, like Iraq today, was subjected to terrorist activities. Under popular pressure, the elections were held on schedule, and the election of a parliament and a new government was a turning point leading to the decline of terrorism. It says the example is applicable to Iraq and "the Iraqis should not be afraid of terrorism but, on the contrary, they should confront it because the terrorists are cowards when confronted with the will of the people." [32]

* Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI 's Middle East Economic Studies Program.

[1] Al-Sabah (Baghdad), December 19, 2004.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 17, 2004.

[3] Al-Hayat (London), December 13, 2004.

[4] Al-Mada (Iraq), December 2, 2004.

[5] Baghdad (Iraq), December 16, 2004. The daily Baghdad is the official organ of the National Accord Party.

[6] Al-Zaman (Iraq), December 15, 2004.

[7] Al-Hayat (London), December 19, 2004.

[8] Al-Mada (Baghdad), December 10, 2004.

[9] Al-Hayat (London), December 12, 2004.

[10] Al-Mada (Baghdad), December 22, 2004.

[11] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 14, 2004.

[12] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 26, 2004.

[13] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 10, 2004.

[14] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 24, 2004.

[15] Al-Hayat (London), December 19, 2004.

[16] Al-Mada (Baghdad), December 22, 2004.

[17] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 23, 2004.

[18] Al-Zaman (Iraq), December 12, 2004.

[19] Iran Daily, December 20, 2004.

[20] Al-Hayat (London), December 3, 2004.

[21] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 21, 2004.

[22] Al-Sabah (Baghdad), December 22, 2004.

[23] Al-Zaman (Iraq), December 15, 2004.

[24] Al-Sabah (Baghdad), December 19, 2004.

[25] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 17, 2004.

[26] Iran Daily, December 19, 2004.

[27] See, for example, the fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Kadhem al-Ha'iri.

[28] Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar), December 16, 2004.

[29] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 17, 2004.

[30] Baghdad (Iraq), December 13, 2004.

[31] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 7, 2004.

[32] Al-Sabah (Iraq), December 18, 2004.

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