Originally Published 2004-01-18 08:56:03 Published on Jan 18, 2004
The strategy of the 16-party United Iraqi Alliance is to institutionalise Shia majority and defer confrontation with the U.S. to a later stage.
Elections in Iraq
The strategy of the 16-party United Iraqi Alliance is to institutionalise Shia majority and defer confrontation with the U.S. to a later stage.  

AMID GROWING chaos, Iraqi newspaper Al-Adalah has published the platform of the 16-party United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shia coalition sponsored by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. The Alliance is predominantly but not exclusively Shia; it is overwhelmingly but not exclusively Arab, and includes groups representing Shia Kurds and Turcomans. Its stated objectives are: a united Iraq with full sovereignty; a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq; a democratic, federal and pluralist Iraq; an Iraq that would respect the Islamic identity of its people and have Islam as the state religion; guarantees for human rights and rights of religious and ethnic minorities against persecution and marginalisation; prevention of discrimination on grounds of sects, religion or ethnicity; a climate of peaceful co-existence without preferential treatment for any group; independence of judiciary and equal dispensation of justice to all; security, prevention of terrorism and de-politicised armed forces; participation of women in politics, economy and social life; education, social security, medical care and health insurance; and an independent foreign policy and membership of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Conference. 

Ayatollah Sistani's approach is clear enough. Given the sectarian mix, the election can only result in a Constituent Assembly that would have a Shia and a
UIA majority resulting in a decisive role in the framing of a new constitution. 

On one calculation, it may get 138 out of 275 seats, a clear 51 percent majority. At that stage, the UIA would be in a strong position both to have its
imprint on the Constitution and to argue for a withdrawal timetable and a policy of its choice. The strategy is to institutionalise Shia majority and defer
contention with the U.S. to a later stage. 

The Shia solidarity, however, is breached by dissent from Muqtada al-Sadr on whose behalf a declaration was read in a Sadr City mosque: "I as an Iraqi will not participate in the elections, and will not enter into this political game at all. Refusing to participate in the election gets you branded as an enemy of democracy, and if you participate in them you find that you have been caught in their game in such a way that you cannot escape." 

A majority of the Sunni groups, on their part, apprehend that elections would settle matters decisively against them. Hence the campaign to disrupt the
process and bleed and frighten away Iraqis who may be collaborating with the occupation forces in any capacity. Their success in this endeavour is
considerable: 90 out a total of 540 voter-registration sites are closed, 17 Sunni parties have sought a six-month postponement of elections, and another 15 Sunni groups (including the Association of Muslim Scholars) have called for an outright boycott. 

Even official sources are now admitting that elections in four Sunni provinces may not be held at all. In a move directed at the Sunni groups Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have urged "all the religious and political affiliations to participate in Iraqi elections so that no group would feel it is marginalised in future." 

The impact of the deteriorating situation on American opinion is no less significant. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has sent a senior retired General
to make an independent assessment. CBS has pointed out that U.S. casualty figures have been understated and given the actual figures as 1,230 dead, 9,300 wounded in battle and another 17, 000 non-combatant sick or injured of whom 80 per cent do not return to their units. 

The New York Times reported last month that one in six soldiers in Iraq showed symptoms of major depression, serious anxiety or post-traumatic  stress disorder and that the number of such cases among returnees from Afghanistan and Iraq could exceed 100,000. It quoted an expert: "There is a train coming that is packed with people who are going to need help for the next 35 years." 

As a result, the focus of commentary now is on a policy that failed and on the imperative need for an exit strategy. Brent Scowcroft, National Security Adviser to Bush (Senior), said this week that the elections have the potential of deepening the Iraqi conflict into a civil war, adding that the U.S. presence in Iraq is inflaming the Middle East. Another former NSA, ZbigniewBrzezinski, has said that if the situation cannot be changed drastically, the operation should be terminated since the alternative is to send in another 50,000 troops, spend an additional $500 billion, and reintroduce military draft. 

Other experts feel "U.S. goals have to shrink" and the President has to prepare public opinion for a revised definition of what constitutes victory! 

Courtesy:  The Hindu 18th Jan 2005

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