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The passage to democracy in Iraq

By Bashdar Ismaeel - posted Monday, 17 January 2005

"We're having elections on January 30th. It is a historical moment." - George W. Bush.

The three-pronged elections in Iraq to elect a 275-member transitional assembly, a 111-member Kurdistan Parliament and undertake provincial elections to select local councils for each of Iraq’s 18 provinces, will take place in Iraq on January 30, 2005. The role of the transitional assembly is to draft a constitution and put it to a referendum before holding full constitutional elections in October 2005.

On the surface, this is a remarkable milestone, not only for the nation of Iraq, but for the Middle East where democracy has long been a traditional taboo. It is also a milestone for the greater war on terror. With mass terror - described by many as outright civil war - on the streets of Ramadi, Mosul and many other predominantly Sunni districts of Iraq, the election bandwagon rolls on. However, as with the selection of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), drafted in March 2004, this may prove to be merely another propaganda victory for the US. 


Many of the Sunni population have not registered to vote, either through choice or through fear, and many Sunni parties have boycotted the elections outright. It is ironic that as one group is calling for a boycott of the elections, another group (Shia) is issuing Fatwa’s (religious decree) for participation in the upcoming elections. For the Sunnis this represents a step back from their days of uncontested dominance and power but conversely for the Shia population this represents their first real opportunity to escape the chain of political oppression experienced under many years of Ottoman and Sunni rule.

Crucially, in Iraqi Kurdistan, elections are taking place without adequate representation. Results in Kirkuk, however democratic they may seem, will be effectively useless, simply because only inhabitants of the city, and the immediate surrounding area, will be adequately represented. Massaud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, through the party mouthpiece al-Taakhi was quoted as saying that the disproportionate representation in certain provinces, coupled with the current violence means that “carrying out the poll under the existing unstable security situation is not feasible and is fruitless”. Many key politicians feel despondent. The prominent Sunni candidate, Adnan Pachachi, recently added his voice for delaying the elections claiming that the current climate “will leave a large segment of the population disenfranchised and many regions under represented”. In essence, the conditions in Iraq will not be conducive to a representative election. It will not give a true picture of the overall opinions and desires of the Iraqi community.

The TAL and its implementation

The TAL was hailed as significant milestone, which set Iraq on the path to plurality, compromise and harmony. However, not much has been achieved in principle. The fundamental reasons are simple: the signing of the TAL was long delayed; it was only signed with considerable diplomatic pressure from the US; and even more importantly was finally signed with an enormous reservation from the majority group in Iraq - the Shia and their revered spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

The TAL never represented democracy and agreement in Iraq and many of the key articles have not, and probably never will be, implemented. The crucial article is 58, which refers to the Arabisation policy of the former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein and its due and justified reversal. However, article 58, which directly referred to Kirkuk, has not seen a single claim processed by the commission charged with dealing with the thousands of displaced Kurdish families. Yet elections are going ahead. Furthermore, according to article 53 of the TAL, only Kurds residing in the areas of the current Kurdish self-rule zone (Duhok, Arbil and Suleimanyia provinces) are eligible to vote in the upcoming Kurdistan parliamentary elections, effectively leaving thousands of Kurds who have returned to areas around Kirkuk, Khanaqin and Mosul without representation, and without a voice in their own assemblage.

Crucially, the significance that the TAL portrayed was further undermined when under pressure from Sistani, the TAL was completely omitted from UN resolution 1456 and was in essence largely nullified.

The Kurdish Alliance and the Iraqi Electoral List

Two of the major Kurdish parties, the KDP and PUK have joined to form the Kurdistan Alliance along with the Islamic Party and a number of other smaller parties. They will take part as a joint list in the election to select a transitional Iraqi assembly and also in the selection of a Kurdish parliament.


As far as the latter is concerned, this is essentially democracy but with a pre-determined result. The two major parties are likely to split a proportion of the seats in the new Kurdistan Parliament for themselves and give another fixed proportion to the remainder of the smaller parties. They will essentially sit in the Iraqi National Assembly as one bloc and one voice for the whole Kurdish population. This is understandably necessary to ensure that Kurdish gains of the past 14 years are safeguarded and that further Kurdish gains in the new Iraq will be maximised, however, this is not good democracy.

The majority of the 15-million strong Shia community and the likely benefactors of the elections will be represented under the Unified Iraqi Alliance - a group amalgamated and supported by the influential Sistani himself. This group will be headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the current leader of the Iranian backed Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri). Some Sunni parties chose to fulfil their threat of boycotting the elections but a number of parties registered on the day of the deadline for registration. The main Sunni dominated alliance will be spearheaded by Pachachi and represented by the Iraqi Independent Democrats Party.

When analysing the Iraqi electoral list, it becomes apparent that the party list submitted to the Iraqi Electoral commission is essentially a combination of loose coalitions designed to gain the maximum advantage for each major group in Iraq.

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About the Author

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance writer and analyst, whose primary focus and expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq and Middle Eastern current affairs. The main focus of his writing is to promote peace, justice and increase awareness of the diversity, suffering and at times explosive mix in Iraq and the Middle East.

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