Secularism a Growing Force in Iraq in Advance of Election

In third place is the Iraqi National Alliance, the bloc most closely tied to Iran and most feared by the Sunnis and secularists. It includes the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (SIIC), formerly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the party led by Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia is responsible for the deaths of many Americans and Iraqis with Iranian munitions. Also included is Ahmed Chalabi’s party, a testament to how quickly Middle Eastern politics can change and Iran’s ability to co-opt even those who were secular and pro-American at one point if it suits their interests. According to a briefing given to General Odierno, the Iranians are providing the SIIC with $9 million per month and the Sadrists with $8 million per month in support ahead of the election.

There are some other things the poll tells us, although it must be remembered that there aren’t multiple polls for us to compare these results. The Kurdish Alliance only receives 10%, which casts some doubt on the survey because the Kurds account for 15-20% of the population. Their turnout is expected to be high, so they are likely being underestimated here. Various other blocs received lower percentages, such as the conservative Sunni National Accord Front, which only got 2.7%. This reflects the success Allawi’s bloc is having in getting Sunni votes, as secularism and protection from Iranian influence are major concerns for them. Al-Maliki is trying to win some of the Sunni and secular votes he lost with the ban by reinstating 20,000 army officers who served under Saddam Hussein.

No bloc is going to win a majority of the vote, and so a coalition will inevitably have to be formed. This is where things get more complicated. Al-Maliki says he wants to form a coalition with the Kurdish Alliance and al-Iraqiya after the election to form the next government, but Allawi is gunning for his spot as prime minister. Al-Maliki is also unpopular among the Kurds. He could instead ally with the Iraqi National Alliance, but their relationship has become significantly strained since his breaking away from their bloc and because they don’t necessarily need him.

There has been talk of the INA allying with al-Iraqiya, with one report (since denied by his party) that Allawi has won the support of Iran and Syria to become the next prime minister by forming such a coalition. The report cites “Iraqi government sources opposed to Allawi,” so this could be an attempt to undermine him, but it’s also possible that Iran is positioning itself as king-maker. If Allawi gets the post with Iran’s help, and he is politically dependent upon the INA’s support for his government’s survival, the Iranians may see this as a way of controlling him despite his fierce opposition to all of their goals. As one White House official said, “They’re putting chips on red and black and whatever is in between.”

It’s difficult to see how this will all play out, but next week’s results will tell us a lot about the growing secular trend of Iraq and Iran’s position in that country.