Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Iraqi Elections

This picture is by Thaier al-Sudani and is from today's New York Times.

The Iraqi elections were held on Sunday, and they are being portrayed (initially, at least) as a success.

These were the first national elections since 2005. I had not realized it had been that long since national elections. There are 325 seats in Parliament in play, plus the right to become (or remain) Prime Minister.

The coverage focuses on three main parties/coalitions: State of Law (led by Nouri al-Maliki; my prior post is here), Iraqiya (led by Ayad Allawi), and the Iraqi National Alliance (led by Ibrahim al-Jaafari). It sounds as though a major storyline is that al-Maliki is trying to attract Sunni support but that Allawi is having more success actually doing so; meanwhile, al-Jaafari is allied in a Shiite-only group with Chalabi and Muqtada al-Sadr. Jesse Zwick had a good summary in The New Republic last week, here.

There are currently 96,000 US troops in Iraq, and General Odierno has said that his preliminary assessment is that the elections were successful and the troop level will therefore be drawn down to 50,000 by September of this year. I am skeptical that we will really reduce the troops that significantly this year, though I assume that Obama will try to make it happen if at all possible.

The Post reported today that 62% of eligible voters actually voted on Sunday -- if that number is accurate, then that is incredibly promising.

The most interesting question is whether al-Maliki will return as Prime Minister. It sounds like there's some pretty intense opposition; here's Anthony Shadid from today's Times:

Followers of Moktada al-Sadr, have made clear that they oppose Mr. Maliki’s return as prime minister. “It is impossible for Maliki to be the next prime minister,” said Baha al-Aaraji, a Sadrist lawmaker and candidate. “He doesn’t have good relations with any other bloc.” That the jockeying over coalitions was so pitched even before the votes were tallied was a reflection of just how unsettled the political landscape here remains. “The State of Law coalition has drawn no red lines against any alliance,” Ali al-Musawi, a media adviser to Mr. Maliki, said in reference to the prime minister’s list. “We stand in equal distance from all of them.”

My media habit at the moment is that I am increasingly switching my allegiance from Slate to The New Republic, as my third national source (after the Post and the Times). I'm not sure what's causing this; I think the political writers at TNR are better (particularly now that John Dickerson's not writing as much), and I sometimes grow tired of Slate's determined contrarianism.

Leila Fadel at the Post has the latest on the elections here.

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