January 02, 2005

Allawi Comeback?

Chris Albritton did some reporting and found out that Iraq's secular prime minister, Iyad Allawi, is actually quite popular around the Shiite south. That seems to square somewhat with recent poll findings, though I suspect that if Ayatollah Ali Sistani comes out and explicitly endorses the Iraqi United List, the latter, more religious slate will beat Allawi's list by a pretty overwhelming margin.

The wild card, I think, are the absentee ballots that will be counted in Jordan. If Allawi does better than expected on the strength of absentee voting, I for one expect some good ol' fashioned cross-border post-election wrangling.

The other thing to keep in mind, though, is that the Iraqi United List isn't all that fundamentalist. True, a Sistani associate, Ali al-Hakim, is no. 1 on the list, and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iran, is number 2. But a lot of the other top Shiite candidates—Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Ahmed Chalabi, Hussein Shahrastani—are all fairly moderate, with relatively secular outlooks. Moreover, the two big religious parties only make up about 40 percent of the main Shiite candidate list. This is a difference of degree, to be sure -- sharia is still going to be the law of the land no matter what, and the Shi'a clergy will still have a lot of influence on social decisions -- but I think there will also be a lot of leeway towards economic and political liberalization, etc. etc.

Now, obviously if someone like Abdul Aziz al-Hakim gets the prime minister slot, that changes things. But not by that much; the prime minister slot doesn't seem like the most powerful position around. Ayad Allawi is relatively powerful mainly because a) he has a lot of input into what the U.S. military does, b) he has secular, ex-Baathist friends in important positions like the Interior and Defense ministries, c) Sunni involvement in the interim government is pretty much limited to the figurehead "president" position, and d) Allawi declared martial law. In all likelihood, whatever prime minister the National Assembly selects won't enjoy nearly the same amount of authority. Unless, of course, a civil war breaks out and the government needs to grant itself "emergency powers."
-- Brad Plumer 3:51 PM || ||