(01 March, 2010) — Iraqis go to the voting booth [...] on Sunday, March 7, to elect the second full-term parliament (4 years) since the fall of the one-party Baath regime in 2003. Given the turmoil surrounding last summer’s elections in Iran and Afghanistan, with massive vote fraud and stolen elections being alleged in both, many Iraqis are worried ballot and other irregularities in their polls, as well.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the Sadr Movement is complaining bitterly about a rash of arrests by the government of Sadrist activists. The hard line Shiite movement asserted that these arrests were aimed at influencing the course of the election.
Al-Hayat writes in Arabic that the National Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shiite religious parties, has alleged that there are 800,000 imaginary voters’ names on the election rolls. Member of parliament for the National Iraqi Alliance, Qasim Da’ud, told al-Hayat that his coalition has already detected numerous instances of attempted fraud in the upcoming election. He said that there is evidence that the Independent High Electoral Commission has come under undue pressure in this regard.
Da’ud was speaking in a roundabout way about Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in making these charges. He went further, asserting that the sitting government had begun acting improperly given the closeness of the election date, with the prime minister misusing his position for electoral purposes. Da’ud said al-Maliki had distributed land and gifts to tribal sheikhs and citizens. He had also decided to purge some military officers and pardon others. Da’ud said that the most brazen such move was the addition of 800,000 imaginary names to the voting rolls just days before the election.
(With regard to the purging and reinstatement of military officers, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced late this week that 20,000 Saddam-era officers in the Baath army would be reinstated (most are at the rank of colonel or below). Critics maintain that al-Maliki is trying for the Sunni vote with this move.
Muqtada al-Sadr’s website for Friday carried the sermon of Sadrist preacher Shaykh Abd-al-Hadi al-Muhammadawi, who also complained about al-Maliki’s gifts in his Friday prayer sermon, referring to an account that al-Maliki gave out pistols to tribal sheikhs who visited him, to curry their favor (USG Open Source Center translation): "His Eminence wondered: Where from did the prime minister bring money to distribute pistols to some chieftains? These are the methods of the destroyer Saddam. Where are the state’s fund? What did Operation Knights Assault and the operations of the so-called Law Enforcement Plan achieve? What are the results of investigations on the crime of the Al-Ummah Bridge and the bloody Wednesday, Sunday, and Tuesday? What is the fate of the corrupt ones, particularly the ministers who have stolen the state’s funds? Where is the wronged people’s share from the ration card’s items?"
Back to the al-Hayat article: The Iraqi National List of former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi said it is worried about massive fraud in the election, given that, it alleged, the Independent High Electoral Commission had printed up an extra seven million ballots. The party dismissed the explanation that the Commission had had to print more ballots because the originals did not meet international criteria.
In al-Anbar Province, Ahmad Abu Risha is a leader of the ‘Awakening Councils’ or ‘Sons of Iraq’ movement, wherein Sunni Arabs took money from the US to fight radical Muslim extremists such as the ‘Islamic State of Iraq.’ He is now part of the Unity of Iraq coalition led by Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani. He said that the Committee of Justice and Accountability’s disqualification of some 500 candidates out of over 6000 was itself a reason to suspect that some political parties intend to commit ballot fraud.
The Independent High Electoral Commission issued a statement denying the validity of the charges and calling them "inexcusable" and "detached from reality."
Meanwhile, The Eye Network dedicated to observing the elections has expressed its fears of ballot fraud in the votes cast by Iraqi expatriates. There are about a million Iraqis in Syria, and a couple hundred thousand in Jordan, with perhaps 50,000 each in Egypt and Lebanon, as well as about 40,000 in Sweden and a few thousands in other countries. (These figures are based on my own research and that of specialists who have presented at conferences I’ve attended; the numbers are much exaggerated in the press for both Jordan and Egypt). The Eye Network says it is precisely the unknown number of voters abroad and the lack of authenticated voter rolls that makes fraud so potentially easy in this regard.
Thre are also fears of undue religious interference. Last week the Pakistani Shiite grand ayatollah in Najaf, Bashir al-Najafi, implicitly denounced several of al-Maliki’s cabinet members, some of them running on his State of Law ticket for corruption and incompetence (criticizing the provision of services such as electricity and water).
Apparently as a reaction to this intervention, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who outranks al-Najafi, reaffirmed the neutrality of the great Shiite clerics in this election. Sistani also announced that he would not meet with any further candidates in the week before the election.
The USG Open Source Center translated the second Friday prayer sermon of Sistani representative Abd al-Mahdi Karbala’i:
‘ 26 February 2010, His Eminence Shaykh Abd-al-Mahdi al-Karbala’i, representative of the Higher Religious Authority, said: "Higher Religious Authority His Eminence Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani, may God maintain his shadow, has warned of the refusal to participate in the coming elections. He said that this is because the citizen’s refusal to participate in the elections will give a chance to others who reject the democratic way of transferring power and running the country’s affairs and who take violence and illegitimate ways as a means to change the situation, to assume power, and impose their policy on the others. He said that this would involve the country in a whirlpool of chaos and continuous instability.
"He pointed out: So as to foil the plans of these sides and in order to prevent them from taking Iraq back to square one, everyone should participate in the elections. All this is in order to consolidate and entrench the democratic way of the rotation of power and to take the country far from the ghost of violence and military coups. If the citizens refuse to participate in the elections, a day will come when they will regret this strongly, but after it is too late." ‘