Iraq: Are the Iraq elections being stolen?

Apparently, according to almost everybody running, the answer is yes.

Both Prime Minister Maliki and President Jalal Talabani are calling for a recount. As the NYT reports:

The appeals by Iraq’s two highest government officials added to a rash of complaints related to how the March 7 election was conducted and how the votes were tallied. Each of the four leading political coalitions in the election has either alleged widespread fraud or called for a recount in what has materialized as an exceedingly close race between Mr. Maliki and Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister.

What’s happening isn’t that strange. Even before the vote, Iraqi politicians were saying they expected some level of fraud. Whether it actually occurred or not was irrelevant; the widespread belief was that it certainly was going to happen. Rumors of hijinx were circulating on the day of the vote, and in the week before the election–helicopters dropping leaflets warning folks not to vote for cerrtain candidates, the perennial favorite of ballot boxes shipped in from Iran, security forces turning people away for political reasons, etc. But U.S. and UN officials have consistently said they haven’t seen any evidence of widespread or systematic voting irregularities, and the election system, as far as I could tell when I visited IHEC headquarters, seems like it would be pretty hard to game. All the accusations seem to be politically motivated, a way for the losers to say they didn’t really lose. Natural enough, I suppose.

Certainly, it’s possible there has been fraud on a larger scale than what’s being admitted–the Americans would have very little motivation to pursue that line of inquiry, and the U.N. showed that in Afghanistan, they’d be willing to look the other way. (Though I don’t see why the U.N. would cover for the Americans in this case; they have a much smaller role in Iraq than in Afghanistan.)

Joe Trippi, an advisor to Shiite candidate Ayad Jamal Aldin, says that we should take the fraud allegations seriously. He sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden that reads, in part:

It is my observation from years of work in domestic and foreign democratic efforts that the large scale allegations of fraud are true. Based on my experience as well as looking at polling data and hearing reports on the ground, I strongly believe that this election is being stolen. It is my view that all allegations should be treated as true until an honest recount is held under the strictest international standards.

But I guess my question is: if the elections are being stolen, who’s the thief? Or is everybody just stealing a little bit?

Read Ned Parker’s story in the LA Times for why all of this should make us very disturbed.

Kenneth Katzman, an analyst on Iraq for the Congressional Research Service, warned Sunday that Maliki could be building the foundations for a non-democratic regime. “Especially with this language of defending the constitution, setting themselves up as the protectors of the constitution, that is how authoritarian parties usually justify what they do,” Katzman said. “It’s ominous.”

Maliki, in his statement released Sunday, said a response from the electoral commission to demands for a recount was necessary “[in order] to safeguard the political stability and to prevent the slipping of the security situation in the country and the resurgence of violence that was defeated only after efforts, sufferings and bloodshed.”

On an entirely unrelated note: I picked on Newsweek a couple weeks back for their lame cover choice. This week, though, they published a must read on Afghanistan, and the $6 billion dollar sinkhole called the Afghan National Police. Interestingly enough, the magazine worked on the story with ProPublica. Why is this story a must read? Reporting, reporting, reporting. It’s the magazine going back to its roots and making use of the great reporters still remaining there, rather than doling out another five thousand more words of opinion.

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About michaelhastings

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3 Responses to Iraq: Are the Iraq elections being stolen?

  1. Michael Peck says:

    Not much we can do here. An Arab nation will have Arab political traditions, including a certain lack of grace in accepting electoral defeat. Given a choice, the U.S. would prefer a strong government to a democratic one anyway. Presumably, Maliki is smart enough to maintain the appropriate fig leaf of respect for democracy. Maybe he’ll try to buy off the other parties Lebanon-style?

    • Michael Hastings says:

      Agreed, stability is the wish of Washington. Which makes it easier for say a guy like Maliki to be undemocratic–what recourse does the U.S. really have, or would be willing to use, that wouldn’t threaten stability? (It only took a couple of weeks for Obama to firmly back Karzai after he clearly stole the Afghan election!) As long as the country keeps up the appearance of democracy, that will be enough to make the White House happy.

      Friedman wrote in his recent column that George Bush’s “gut” instinct that Iraqis “craved freedom” was right. TF got it wrong: what Iraqis seem to crave isn’t freedom, I don’t think, it’s stability. I don’t mean this as a slight–but it’s clear that what makes both Maliki and Allawi appealing is their ability to play the strong man.

  2. artguerrilla says:

    1. funny how we can talk about iraqi, venezuelan (sp? sorry venusians), brazilian (heh, now *that* is spelled correctly, why is that being highlighted, stupid spel czech), iranian, EVERY BODY else’s elections in the world…
    …but our corrupted election system goes without virtually any comment or investigation ? ? ?
    2. seems appropriate to trot out my pet hobby horse here:
    A. Paper Ballots, Hand Counted, Locally Reported, that is INFINITELY preferable to hackable, controlled, centralized, opaque, proprietary, non-auditable computer-based voting systems…
    B. Instant Runoff Voting, *besides* the obvious advantage of -duh- no runoffs, the far more important benefit is to give third/fourth/etc parties and candidates a fighting chance in our strictly enforced duopoly…
    3. in our broken democracy, it is no longer:
    One Person, One Vote
    it is:
    One Korporation, One Million ‘Votes’
    (votes now take the form of money in this anti-democratic system)
    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

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