Thursday, February 05, 2009

Fears of Violence in the Wake of Elections

Iraqi provincial elections were held this past weekend, with the usual suspects immediately claiming that the elections represent vindication for U.S. policy in Iraq (and a defeat for Iran for good measure.) Cooler heads, such as Marc Lynch, warned that we shouldn't be so quick to celebrate:

I kept warning, publicly and privately, that they might not actually win those elections: that tribal influence may be exaggerated, that the Awakenings were internally divided, that the Islamic Party could draw on state resources. But I was told again and again by military sources and others that this was impossible, that the tribal groups controlled the streets, and that the IIP had no chance.

Well, early returns suggest that the Islamic Party has won at least a plurality in Anbar. Turnout was only 40%. Ahmed Abu Risha, formerly of the Anbar Salvation Council and now of the Iraqi Awakenings Conference [corrected], has been telling everyone who will listen that there was massive electoral fraud in Anbar, and that if the IIP is declared the winner the province will look "like Darfur." Another leader, Hamed al-Hayes of the Anbar Salvation Council, is warning that if the IIP is declared the winner his men will turn the province into a graveyard for the IIP and its collaborators. The Iraqi military has declared a curfew to prevent outbreaks of violence.

And that was Monday. Now, three days later, how are things looking? Well, as Marc Lynch points out in an update, the Iraqi Higher Elections Commissions indicated on Teusday that they may void the results in the face of allegations of fraud, and tribal leaders of the Awakenings movement aren't exactly moderating their threats of violence:

In a palatial house replete with guns, flags and other manifestations of tribal power, America's key ally in once-volatile Anbar province explained what he would do if the counting of votes in Saturday's election failed to show his party as the victor.

"We will form the government of Anbar anyway," vowed Ahmed Abu Risha, his voice dipping to a quiet growl. The tribesmen seated in his visiting room, where photos of U.S. generals and Sunni monarchs adorn the walls, nodded in approval. "An honest dictatorship is better than a democracy won through fraud," Abu Risha said.

Our strategy of bolstering the Sunni tribes of the Awakenings movement has depended largely on convincing them that they could gain through peaceful elections what we would not permit them to gain by force, that being power over the Sunni-dominated provinces of Iraq and the diminishment of Iraq Islamic Party. It appears they've been waiting for a payoff that may not come, and they are not taking that possibility well at all.

UPDATE: Marc Lynch says trouble may be brewing in Baghdad as well, where Sunni politicians did poorly in the provincial council elections. The question, as he puts it, is: will frustrated challengers react to their failure to obtain the share of state power that they had expected?

We'll find out.

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