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Iraqi Political Coalitions in the Parliamentary Elections

Author: Lionel Beehner
December 12, 2005
This publication is now archived.

Introduction

Iraqi voters going to the polls in elections to choose a permanent parliament will face a diverse list of candidates and coalitions. All told, more than 220 political groups and more than 7,000 candidates have registered for the December 15 elections. The party lists are designed to ensure that one-quarter of the parliament's seats are filled by women. Organizers say they expect a higher voter turnout than the interim parliamentary elections held January 30, mostly because Sunni Arabs, which comprise at least 20 percent of Iraq’s population, are not boycotting the elections this time around. As such, most experts predict Shiite and Kurdish parties should win fewer seats than in January.

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What are the main Shiite coalitions?
  • United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). This bloc of conservative Islamist parties, the so-called clerics’ list, which currently holds 140 seats in the 275-member Transitional National Assembly, is again expected to receive the most votes in the upcoming elections. The UIA is led by two parties: the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a cleric-led party with close ties to Iran, and the Dawa Party, an Islamist party led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The UIA also includes some supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-U.S. cleric who heads the Mahdi Army. The UIA claims to enjoy the tacit support of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the reclusive spiritual leader of Iraq’s 16 million Shiites. On the UIA’s platform: strictly enforcing the Iraqi constitution, strengthening Iraq’s regional governments, and prosecuting ex-Baathist criminals. However, the coalition, which includes more than sixteen parties, has suffered from political infighting in recent months. Some of its more secular members, including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi, defected from the coalition this year because of the UIA’s increasingly Islamist orientation. Some experts say the coalition will not win the same number of seats as before. “The Shiite religious parties aggregated into the United Iraqi Alliance have not distinguished themselves in government in these last seven or eight months,” said Larry Diamond, senior research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, in a November 21 Council on Foreign Relations meeting. “There’s a lot of dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Jaafari—his performance, his party’s performance, the coalition’s performance.” Diamond does not expect the UIA to win more than 40 percent of the vote.
  • Iraqi National List (INL). This recently created coalition, led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, encompasses a wide political spectrum of seventeen mostly secular Shiite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish parties. The bloc calls for a united and democratic Iraq that “renounces sectarianism,” improved relations with Iraq’s Arab neighbors, and a strong national army. Allawi, a Shiite, dismisses accusations that his coalition is anti-Islam or pro-Baathist. “We represent all of Iraq, not just one party,” he said in a November 28 interview with al-Arabiya. Allawi’s bloc won only 14 percent of the vote in January. Yet according to the Christian Science Monitor, Allawi’s support among secular and better-educated Iraqis has surged in recent weeks. Some Iraqis say they will support him because of his reputation as a strongman. Others, however, are expected to vote against Allawi for this very same reason. Shiites and Sunnis alike remember the anti-insurgency crackdowns he orchestrated as prime minister in 2004 in Fallujah, Najaf, and Sadr City; during a December 4 visit to a shrine in Najaf, Allawi was attacked by armed Shiite militia members. Ads by rival Shiite parties refer to him as “Saddam without the mustache.” His interim government was also widely known for corruption. Further, Allawi is seen by some Iraqis as a lackey of the United States, not to mention a Baathist sympathizer. His new alliance includes a number of ex-Baathists—Allawi himself was a former Baath Party member—most notably former Defense Minister Hazim Shalan, who was charged with corruption. Yet he also has reached out to Adnan Pachachi, an octogenarian and popular Sunni leader who led the Iraqi delegation to the United Nations in 2003.
  • National Congress Coalition. A coalition of liberal Shiite and Sunni candidates, the National Congress Coalition, founded by the former Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi, considers itself a less Islamist alternative to the United Iraqi Alliance. Chalabi said he hopes to appeal to Iraq’s Muslims who favor “a democratic, pluralistic, and federalist system of government.” One of the coalition’s primary goals is to better develop Iraq’s oil sector. Chalabi claims Iraq has the largest oil reserves in the world, “bar none.” As deputy prime minister, he has pushed for a policy of de-Baathification, drawing the ire of Sunni leaders. He also has a past clouded by allegations of embezzlement, theft, and forgery in Jordan. His coalition also includes moderate parties like the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, led by Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, a former exile and first cousin of Iraq’s king who was overthrown in 1958. Many of these parties, like Chalabi’s, defected from the UIA.
What are the main Sunni Arab coalitions?
  • Iraqi Accord Front. The first major alliance established within the Sunni Arab community, the Iraqi Accord Front rejects the U.S. occupation but has participated in the political process in Iraq. The bloc comprises the Iraqi Islamic Party, the National Dialogue Council, and the Conference of the People of Iraq. The Iraqi Islamic Party, headed by Tariq al-Hashimi, is loosely associated with the Egypt’s fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood and was the sole Sunni group to participate in January’s elections. More recently, the party was instrumental in urging Sunnis to vote in the constitutional referendum that passed last October. The National Dialogue Council, a powerful Sunni group led by Khalaf al-Ulayyan, boycotted January’s elections but voted “no” in the referendum. The Council has been highly critical of the Defense Ministry’s policy of demolishing civilian houses suspected of harboring insurgents. The Conference of the People of Iraq, led by Adnan Dulaimi, has strongly criticized anti-Shiite terrorist attacks in Iraq and called for more national reconciliation. Dulaimi,a powerful Sunni leader who fought against the constitution’s position on federalism, has pleaded for a high Sunni turnout on December 15. The Iraqi Accord Front, which says it is not sectarian-based, has three main goals: expelling U.S. forces from Iraq, ending de-Baathification, and amending the constitution, which the group’s spokesperson, Zafir al-Ani, called a “readymade recipe for civil war,” in a recent interview. 
  • Iraqi Front for National Dialogue. This is the more secular and nationalist of the major Sunni coalitions. It’s led by Saleh al-Mutlaq, a prominent Sunni Arab leader who favors establishing a clear timetable for a U.S. withdrawal, amending the constitution, negotiating with insurgents, and releasing Iraqis unfairly held in U.S. prisons. Mutlaq has called the constitution a “minefield” that will “blow up anytime.” The bloc—which comprises several Sunni Arab parties, including the Iraqi National Front and Arab Democratic Front—is expected to fare well in insurgent strongholds like Ramadi and Mosul.
What are the main Kurdish coalitions?
  • Kurdistan Coalition List. This coalition—which won seventy-five seats (or 26 percent of the vote) in January’s election—includes the two leading Kurdish parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The KDP, led by Massoud Barzani, commands the 100,000-strong Kurdish militia known as the peshmerga. The PUK, founded in 1975, is a social democratic party that promises to rebuild Kurdistan along “modern and democratic lines.” The coalition as a whole has several goals:protecting Kurdistan's semi-autonomous status, maintaining its Kurdish militia, and strengthening its control over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. But Kurdistan’s main coalition has come under attack in recent weeks for its failure to democratize and provide security from the Kurdistan Islamic Union, which recently broke away from the coalition. On December 6, at least five people were killed in clashes between supporters of the coalition and the KIU when demonstrators stormed the party’s office.  
  • Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU). Formerly a member of the Kurdistan Coalition List, the Kurdistan Islamic Union accuses the Coalition of dominating Kurdish politics, failing to reform Kurdistan’s economy, root out corruption, and falsely reporting a higher voter turnout among Kurds during the October constitutional referendum. Yet the KIU’s Secretary-General Salaheddin Mohammed Bahaeddin told the newspaper Yekgirtu that “the PUK and KDP interpret a single list as the unanimity of the parties and campaign for it as such.” Some experts say by splitting off, the KIU may actually dissipate votes and hurt Kurds’ representation in the new parliament.

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