Iraq elections results review

Friday, January 20, 2006 at 05:26 PM

Now that the final tallies have been published for the December elections in Iraq, it's time to review the results, the way they've been portrayed, what they mean for trying to form an Iraqi permanent government, and what it means for the U.S.

First, the results:

Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (USUIA) 128 seats
Sunnis 55 seats
Kurds 53 seats
Others 39 seats
Total 275 seats

Second, the fate of two politicians currently and formerly favored by the US, as reported by ABC News:

a. Ayad Allawi's sectarian ticket lost seats, but Allawi himself won election.

b. Current Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, the exiled Iraqi once thought to be America's choice to rule after Saddam Hussein, failed to win a seat.

Third, the most common headline in the US has invoked the fact that the Shia did not win enough seats to rule alone; they must form a coalition. Typical examples:
a. Iraqi politicians face tough negotiations to form new government; San Jose Mercury News

b. Iraq Shiites Win Vote but Must Share Power; ABC News

In other countries, the headlines often emphasized that the vote was a solid win for the very folks that the US really didn't want to hold power--the religious Shia who have the closest ties to Iran of any group in Iraq.

Fourth, what it means to forming a permanent government to rule Iraq for the next few years:

With 138 needed for absolute majority, the Shiites need only 10 additional votes to wield a simple majority. Under the new Iraqi constitution, however (at strong US "urging") it takes two thirds to name a president. The Shiites and Kurds together hold 181 seats, three short of the 184 required to name the president.

So for some matters, the current Shia-Kurd coalition will be inadequate, forcing them to widen the coalition a little bit to pick up the 3 seats required to get to two thirds. For other decisions, such as the Prime Minister, the Shia alone will be enough, For still others, the Shia will need a coalition partner to provide at least 10 more votes; that partner is widely expected to be the Kurds, but could by any other 10 seats.

Fifth, according to the Times Online UK,
the Sunnis will likely be given the post of Defense Minister, on the theory that bringing more Sunnis into the army to patrol Sunni neighborhoods may reduce the number of insurgent attacks, as rebels may be less likely to kill Sunnis than the Shia and Kurd soldiers who are seen as collaborating with the Americans.

Sixth, no matter how hard they try to sound thrilled with the election and its results, this is not what the US wanted when we went into Iraq, when we set up an interim government, when the Constitution was written and voted on, or when the December elections were held. We'll take it because, that's all there is to take.

The immediate die have been cast and we all wait to see what the passage of time brings us.
Update [2006-1-22 12:12:9 by Lee Russ]: The NY Times report on Saturday, 1-21-06 (see page A6) gives a finer breakdown on the results. There are two additional Shiite seats held by candidates not directly aligned with the USUIA but likely to vote with it, and 5 seats held by Kurds not directly aligned with the Kurdish Alliance, but likely to vote with it. That gives the Shia alone 130 seats, with 138 needed for a simple majority, and all Shia and Kurd seats number more than enough to meet a two-thirds majority requirement.