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The biggest loser

Special Correspondent
Asma al-Dulaimi speaks bitterly about her bloc’s results in the parliamentary elections of March 2010.
7.04.2010  |  Anbar

“The Accord Front was the first to take part in the political process and paid a very high price for bringing stability to Iraq,” says the former lawmaker.

During her time in office, her two sons were kidnapped and held hostage for a long period, while her daughter was repeatedly threatened. Her children eventually fled the country. In 2008, in a terrorist attack that targeted the Ministry of Endowment in Baghdad, her husband was killed.

Despite the sacrifices she and her family made for the country, they were not enough to bring success to the Accord Front, which lost most of their seats in the new parliament.

Until recently, the Front considered itself the sole representative of Iraqi Sunnis in parliament. No Shia or Kurdish figures were to be found in their ranks. In 2005, they took 44 out of 275 seats despite the almost complete boycott of the elections by other Sunni parties. This year, though, when the final results were announced last Friday, they won only six of the 325 seats in the new parliament.

Dulaimi says the disappointing results for her list are down to many factors. She lays some blame at the door of the establishment.

“The media, especially government-owned bodies, was very biased and did not publish news about the many achievements of the Accord Front,” but also admits that internal divisions within the bloc did not help matters.

“Many prominent political leaders left the front and joined Iyad Allawi’s list and the withdrawal of all the members of the National Dialogue Front, one of our major components, during the last parliament, also wounded us.”

In 2005, the Accord Front was composed of three different entities, with the largest share of seats taken by the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of Iraq’s oldest religious parties. However, from the outset, the bloc was sharply divided. Some of the most prominent conflicts were taking place within the Islamic Party itself and soon after the elections, Tariq al-Hashimi, the party’s leader and the Republic’s Vice President, left both the party and the bloc. He formed his own list, known as Renewal, which competed alongside Iyad Allawi in the Iraqiya Coalition.

Dr. Rafa al-Issawi, the Deputy Prime Minister, also withdrew from the front, taking other high-ranking and influential Sunni figures such as Dr. Ahmad al-Alwani and Dr. Salman Jumaili with him. Iraqiya again benefited from this.

Ahead of the elections, another wave of withdrawals hit the Accord Front, including the walkout of Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayan, leader of the Iraqi People’s Conference, who joined the National Unity List.

The withdrawals and divisions made the front loose its political presence in many Sunni-dominated areas and in some other mixed areas, particularly in Anbar, Salahuddin, Ninawa, Kirkuk and Baghdad. At the same time, Iraqiya moved in to sweep up the Sunni support that was leaving the Accord Front. They were the surprise winners in the election, taking 91 seats in total.

More than 280 candidates competed for the Accord Front, currently composed of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Independent National Tribal Gathering, the National Gathering of the Iraqi People and the Iraqi Turkmen Justice Party, but they won only two seats in Anbar and Salahuddin provinces and one in Baghdad and Mosul.

“Iyad Allawi chose the best timing before elections to attract prominent figures from the Accord Front such as Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and Deputy Prime Minister Rafie al-Issawi,” says al-Dulaimi. “He was also able to launch a huge electoral campaign with the help of Iraqi satellite stations. He spent lots of money persuading Sunnis that they could represent them best in the parliament. Our election campaign was very humble compared to that of the Iraqiya. Propaganda needs huge financial resources which we do not have.”

Dr. Sabah al-Issawi, a member of the Accord list in Anbar, who failed to win a seat, attributes the poor performance to other reasons, though.

“People became doubtful of religion and religious parties and are adopting a more secular approach,” he said. “The terrorism of al-Qaeda makes people reluctant to support Islamic parties and more inclined towards secular lists, like Iraqiya.”

He added that the Sunnis in general and the people of al-Anbar in particular, have suffered a lot from al-Qaeda after 2003, when it was able to dominate the province and impose strict Islamic laws.

Iyad al-Samarraei, the house speaker and the Accord Front’s leader, shares the Issawi’s view.

“The Iraqiya List was able to win Sunni votes by taking advantage of their suffering under al-Qaeda,” he said. “They should have built their success on their programmes rather than on mere emotional reactions of voters.”

These complaints were dismissed out of hand by Dr. Ahmed al-Alwani, who withdrew from the Accord Front to join Iraqiya.

“The Accord Front is a patriotic front. Many patriotic figures were members of the Front,” he argues. “But national interests today require a bloc capable of gathering all Iraqi components; a bloc capable of introducing a new model of governance acceptable to all Iraqis; one with the power to form a national parliament and government and the courage to carry the burdens of the new phase in Iraqi’s history.”

The Iraqiya list, according to Alwani, has proven itself to possess all these elements because it is composed of a number of Sunni as well as Shia personalities and political parties.

The Accord Front continues to try to attract back members who left and restore the lost unity.

“I sincerely hope that a new government will be formed very soon,” said Asma al-Dulaimi. “After which I expect the return to the Front of a number of prominent figures.”

However, her optimism may be misplaced in these circumstances. Political Analyst Abdel-Halim Qasem said that efforts made by the Accord Front to attract back some of its prominent members are unlikely to succeed.

“Their low number of seats makes their position weak when negotiating with any party and nobody is interested in an alliance with a bloc that performed so badly at the polls, even if there are conflicts in the winning blocs,” he explained.