Thursday, January 29, 2009

Iraqi Elections

The Iraqi elections are only about 36 hours away.  With over 14,400 candidates vying for 440 council seats, there are a lot of people looking for air time for their messages.  I was watching an Iraqi channel on TV a little while ago and saw non-stop political ads.  I mean non-stop: there wasn't any scheduled programming!  Just ads for this candidate or that, with a bunch of "rock-the-vote" style ads in between.  All sides are going all-out.  Some ads are "guy-in-the-street" interviews, one was animated (pretty sophisticated animation, too), some feature patriotic music and Iraqi flags waving, and some seem to suggest that a vote for the other guy is a vote for the terrorists (sounds like our ads, huh?).  There are even spots featuring Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, who is the biggest of the big Shiite religious leaders.  Sistani has said it is everyone's duty to get out and vote for the "most qualified" candidate, and he has been very careful to ensure that his words cannot be construed to endorse any candidate or any political party.  His words carry a lot of weight here.

The Sunnis boycotted the last round of elections.  As a result, the Shiites and Kurds took a disproportionate share of power while the Sunnis were left out in the cold.  This time, the Sunnis are determined to gain at least a modicum of power back.  They are really energized and will turn out in droves.

The Kurds are going to turn out, too.  They know that their gains from the last election are fragile and fear that a gain in Sunni power will come at their expense.  So they're energized, too.

The only ones boycotting the election this time are the Al Qaeda guys, and there really isn't a lot of popular support for them, anyway.  They will probably take out their anger in some form of attacks, but nobody expects major disruption from them.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of election monitors in-country right now.  They're going to virtually every polling place to make sure the process is as fair as possible in a place like this.  I was in an office today where a group was getting a last-minute briefing before heading out to their assignments.  My roommate left yesterday to his posting, which is a small town way out at the end of the road somewhere. 

As you might expect, with this many people going out to monitor this important an election, the logistics are daunting.  The US is taking the lead on providing transportation, support, and security for the monitors.  (Well, duhh: who the hell else could do it?) I've watched the planning develop for several months now and have been impressed with the way our military, in particular, has stepped up to the plate.  Our guys live and breathe organization.  There are plans, back-up plans, and contingency plans.  Every helicopter, C-130, MRAP, and cargo hauler in theater will be working pretty much every minute, and the schedules have been scripted (with back-ups, of course) for quite a while.  A really amazing effort.

In contrast, there are other organizations here in town whose approach seems to be to sprinkle magic fairy dust and then *POOF* everything falls into place.  And no, I won't name names.

While checking the news this afternoon, I saw that the Iraqi government announced that Blackwater is going to be invited to leave the country very soon.  Do you think it's a coincidence that the announcement was made just two days before the election?  Do you believe in the Easter bunny?  And yes, that little item is getting quite a bit of attention here.  My experience with Blackwater has been unfailingly positive: the guys are pros and know what they're doing.  At least the ones I deal with are, but I wasn't here during that infamous shooting in the traffic circle last year.

But that's the news from my little corner of the IZ.  The next two days will be very interesting.  Let's just hope they're not too interesting!

1 comment:

Nixon said...

Great post. I think it's impressive for Iraq that they're biggest problems for the provincial elections is there's too many damn candidates. The Mosul situation with the Kurds losing power might have some nasty consequences...but we'll see.

I was in the IZ when the Blackwater incident happened, however I was not there when one of them got drunk and shot Vice President Mehdi's bodyguard. Not very good for diplomacy, that's for damn sure.