Allawi Wins Most Seats in Iraqi Elections
By ROD NORDLAND and TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
Published: March 26, 2010
BAGHDAD, Iraq — When the votes were all finally counted, Iraq’s election left almost everything unresolved, from who would finally rule the country to whether American combat troops would be able to leave on schedule by August.
The former interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite once derided as an American puppet, galvanized the votes of Sunnis who sat out Iraq’s first national elections and clawed his way back from political obscurity. But his wafer-thin edge of 91 to 89 over his nearest rival, the incumbent prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, falls far short of the majority of 163 of the 325 seats in parliament that he needs to form a government.
A jubilant Mr. Allawi said he would work with any group that was willing to join him in forming a government. “We will not exclude anyone,” he said. “Our coalition is open to all.”
But even with the best of intentions, assembling that coalition will take at least until July, possibly even longer, Iraqi political experts said, and Mr. Allawi will have to overcome deep-seated enmity from the other two biggest vote-getting blocs: the Kurds, with 43 seats; and the Iraqi National Alliance, a Shiite party that gained 70 seats and is led in part by the anti-American cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, who emerged as a possible king maker.
In that case, Mr. Maliki would remain as a caretaker prime minister, and Iraq would enter a protracted period of uncertainty that could prove particularly dangerous as American troops draw down. President Barack Obama has promised that all combat troops will withdraw from Iraq by August, leaving 50,000 trainers and support troops until the end of 2011.
Mr. Maliki immediately denounced the results as fraudulent and promised to call for a recount. Almost all the losing parties have complained for the past several days about what they said were irregularities with both the vote and the drawn out count from the March 7 election.
“No way we will accept the results,” he said. “These are preliminary results. We will challenge the results through the law and courts.” He stressed however that his opposition would be “through legal channels to transfer the authority in a peaceful and transparent manner.”
Earlier in the vote-counting process, when he appeared to be in the lead, Mr. Maliki had rejected his opponents’ claims of fraud.
The Iraqi High Electoral Commission dismissed all the complaints, saying it had already investigated them and found nothing serious enough to have altered the outcome. Nevertheless, candidates now have until Monday to appeal the results, which the losers looked likely to do.
The results were announced in a joint news conference held by the Independent High Electoral Commission and the United Nations Mission in Iraq, which collaborated in conducting the elections.
“The greatest winner is the Iraqi people who spoke their minds on the 7th of March,” said commission chairman Faraj al-Haydari. “It was the biggest purple demonstration that Iraq has ever seen.” Turnout of over 60 percent was the highest in any of Iraq’s post-invasion elections.
The top United Nations official in Iraq, Ad Melkert, said that while there were some irregularities in the election, they were minor and did not affect the outcome. “All results from 50,000 polling stations were checked at least eight times,” he said.
The main Kurdish parties were hurt by defections from the new Change Party in Kurdistan, as well as other Kurdish splinter parties. They vowed to reject the results in oil-rich Kirkuk altogether.
Mr. Allawi’s Iraqiya party did far better than expected in Kirkuk, and although it split the province’s 14 seats with the Kurds, that was enough to send Sunni Arabs and Turkmen into the streets honking horns and firing into the air in celebration. Kurdish areas were quiet.
The March 7 elections were full of hope for an end to sectarian politics and the first peaceful transition of power under Iraq’s own constitution since the days of the monarchy in the 1950s. They did indeed shatter the sectarian political template that brought Mr. Maliki to power in the country’s first elections in 2005, when an alliance of Shiite parties steam-rollered all opponents — particularly because Iraq’s minority Sunnis boycotted the polls.
This time, the prime minister and the main part of his Dawa Party broke with the Shiite alliance, standing on his own as the State of Law Party. That left the country’s largest Shiite party, the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, running on its own, and it fared so poorly that Moqtada al-Sadr’s radical followers — who had only recently renounced armed resistance — became the dominant Shiite political force.
Mr. Allawi’s rise was even more startling, with many observers writing him off entirely until late in the campaign. In the 2005 elections, when he was the American-appointed incumbent, his bloc won only 25 seats.
This time, well-financed and highly organized, Mr. Allawi’s Iraqiya list forged alliances with two prominent Sunni politicians, Salih al-Mutlaq and Tariq al-Hashemi. He also appealed to secular voters. His opponents derided him as a stalking horse for loyalists of the Baathist Party, Saddam Hussein’s old party, and accused him of being heavily financed by Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Allawi in turn accused Iran of meddling in Iraq’s affairs on behalf of Mr. Maliki and the more hardline Shiite followers of the Iraqi National Alliance. Early in the campaign, Iranian diplomats made no secret of their efforts to persuade the prime minister to join the other Shiite groupings. But his many Shiite enemies refused to guarantee him the post of prime minister if their alliance won, so he stood on his own.
Among the biggest winners was Moqtada al-Sadr himself, who has not been seen in Iraq for some time and is believed to be living in Iran. Mr. Sadr’s extremist followers are blamed for many of the worst excesses during the sectarian warfare in 2006-2008.
With the Sadrists potentially in the position of kingmakers, the end of sectarianism in Iraqi politics may still prove elusive. Although Mr. Allawi is a secular Shiite, he became identified as the Sunnis’ candidate. Kept from power, many of the Sunnis who turned to him and away from supporting Sunni insurgents may become disenchanted—especially after Shiite officials managed to disqualify scores of Allawi’s candidates on the grounds that they were former Baathists.
The position of prime minister will be hashed out in a process that even the American military and diplomats say will take until July, leaving Mr. Maliki as a caretaker leader at least until then. In 2005, with a far less-complex division of the electoral spoils, it took more than five months to form a government, contributing to the political instability that helped provoke the sectarian conflict that began less than a year later.
Sam Dagher contributed reporting from Kirkuk.