Politics, Mesopotamian Style
BAGHDAD--In his well-appointed living room, Mustafa Ibrahim has been fidgeting in his chair for half an hour. He leans farther and farther forward in ever more intense monologue until he can restrain himself no longer and starts shouting: "The election commission members are all Shiites. They enter all the information in the computers. They started cheating from the first day of the election." Adding to his grievances, he figures--wrongly--that Sunni Arabs like himself compose over half of Iraq's population, and so he is angry that they won only a small fraction of seats in the new 275-member Council of Representatives. His message to the Shiites and Kurds who swept the election: "If they don't make any agreement or compromise, there will be a very brutal war."
The leading Sunni list of candidates campaigned on their support for the insurgency and defense of Sunni-centric interests. Election posters were calculated to strike an emotional chord in the Sunni heartland by showing disfigured corpses of insurgents--portrayed as "martyrs" --who died fighting American and Iraqi troops and showing other fighters being arrested by soldiers.
On Election Day, voters divided along the same sectarian lines that have pretty much defined the grinding, low-grade violence that continues to convulse Iraq. Whether party leaders can cross these lines over the next few months will determine the success or failure of a new four-year government.
But so far, compromise hasn't been high on the agenda. Shiite leaders met their Kurdish counterparts in the mountainous sanctuary of Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq last week to discuss divvying up top government positions based on their anticipated domination of the parliament. Meanwhile back in Baghdad, Sunnis took to the streets crying fraud in an election in which ballots have scarcely been counted and final vote totals and parliamentary seat allocations won't be known for weeks. Some groups have demanded that the election be held again or that the Shiite parties, which will have the vast majority of seats, hand over some to the Sunnis.
Such demands have gotten scant attention from the Shiites and Kurds and are unlikely to result in substantial changes to the election results. United Nations monitors declared the vote "credible," but an international panel will review the results. The complaints reflect the deep estrangement Sunnis feel from the political process despite turning out in droves to vote, a contrast to the boycott of political participation many Sunnis supported a year ago. Ibrahim is one of them. His feet curled up to his side and one hand grasping the carved wooden arm of his chair, he lists population statistics and voter turnout numbers to prove a common belief among Sunnis that they are the majority and that election results showing the contrary are proof of fraud. "Half of Baghdad was for [the Sunni candidates] and four governorates, but we only got 43 seats," he says incredulous, citing an unofficial election result.
As he is speaking, a small boy pokes his head in the room, and Ibrahim beckons him. The 5-year-old marches in with a grin, waving a toy AK-47 assault rifle. "He loves guns," explains Ibrahim, a former member of the elite Republican Guard that served as Saddam Hussein's personal security detail.