Violence in Iraq Increases Ahead of Elections
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RAY SUAREZ: And with me now are two former coalition provisional authority officials. Larry Diamond focused on political transitions while he was in Iraq in the first part of 2004; he’s now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
And Brett McGurk was in Iraq from January to October last year; he focused on legal issues such as assisting in the drafting of the Iraqi interim constitution and setting up the legal framework for national elections.
Larry Diamond, given what you just heard Jeffrey Gettleman say, given everything that’s been going on in Iraq in the past week or so, what kind of elections are you anticipating?
LARRY DIAMOND: Well, Ray, I think Jeffrey Gettleman had it very well analyzed when he said that we’ll probably see a very high turnout in most of the Kurdish constituencies and the Shiite constituencies in the South and probably a very low turnout in most of the Sunni constituencies and in al-Anbar Province and Salahadeen Province and elsewhere.
And this is going to create an enormous imbalance in representation among groups in Iraq. And then the question will be: How do you correct, after the election, for a system in which the Sunnis may represent 15 to 20 percent of the population but may have only been able to elect perhaps 3 to 5 percent of the seats in parliament.
RAY SUAREZ: Brett McGurk, given the conditions on the ground, what kind of election are you anticipating?
BRETT McGURK: I think it’s fair to assume that there will be a lower turnout in some of those Sunni-dominated provinces because of the violence and intimidation tactics.
But I do think it’s important to stress and the report earlier said that the administration is starting to stress the process – but it’s not just the administration.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, which is boycotting the elections, recently came out and said even though we’re boycotting the elections we want to be included in the post election government.
And what I tried to explain in an op-ed in the Washington Post about a week ago is that there are ample institutional mechanisms in place for inclusion of Sunni groups post election the way the three-member presidency council will be formed, each member must receive super majority votes from within the national assembly.
That council then unanimously appoints the prime minister, approves cabinet selections. The members of the presidency council also can come from outside and do not have to be from elected within the national assembly.
These are just… that’s just one of the arrangements in place. Jeffrey Gettleman also mentioned the constitutional referendum process which is another avenue.
RAY SUAREZ: But given that they’re electing in Iraq a constitutional convention, delegates to a constitutional convention, how do you answer Larry Diamond’s question about a process that’s being created and may have no or very little Sunni representation?
BRETT McGURK: Well, that also is… it’s a little simplistic to say that this group is going to simply go in a room, lock the doors and draw up a constitution. That’s simply not the process forward.
The 275 members will determine how the constitution is going to be drafted. They will set up a constitution-drafting committee. They can bring people in from the outside.
And the leadership of the Shia political class in Iraq is very encouraging. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Abdul Mahdi is now the finance minister, they have been saying “we are going to reach out and include Sunni groups even if violence in those central provinces suppresses the vote.”
So these are all things I think people have to take into account if you’re fairly going to assess the elections and the road forward.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Larry Diamond, you heard that proposition that some of this can be fixed after the election. What do you think?
LARRY DIAMOND: I think the fixes that Brett is talking about will be important but inadequate.
Yes, you can have a Sunni member of the presidency council. Inevitably there will be one. Yes, you can appoint Sunnis to the constitutional drafting committee. That will be important.
But the question is who is doing the choosing? One of the concerns I think of many Sunni political forces — some of them which are clearly democratic and civic-minded forces — is that the Sunnis who are now being disenfranchised potentially in this election be able to choose their own representatives.
And I think in addition to what Brett mentioned, it’s going to be important to have some kind of national dialogue, conference or roundtable where the representatives of political forces that were in the election and the representatives of political forces that either boycotted or were unable to participate in the election sit down and work out some kind of way of expanding the national assembly, perhaps amending the constitution to allow for supplementary representatives or in some other way allowing political forces from these areas that feel excluded from the process to have meaningful representation.
RAY SUAREZ: By using this formula, Brett McGurk, with a nationwide list rather than provincial elections, by running parties instead of individual candidates and putting heavy stress on that –
BRETT McGURK: Right.
RAY SUAREZ: — did that exacerbate some of the problems you’re going to have if there’s a low Sunni turnout?
BRETT McGURK: There’s been a lot of commentary on that. To analyze that, you have to understand where that process came from, where the unified one-district proportional representation system came from.
First, the Jan. 30 election date comes from the political consensus reached between Grand Ayatollah Sistani and Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. Special Representative. Sistani, of course, wanted early elections and wanted elections in June. The Brahimi report said you can have elections by Jan. 30. And that became the date.
The U.N. Electoral Assistance Team then came to Baghdad in the spring, led by Ms. Carina Pirelli and others, and they went around Baghdad talking to a number of Iraqis with different proposals of different systems.
And their conclusion was if you’re going to have elections by Jan. 30, the single district proportional representation system was really the only viable option. Now I was in Baghdad at the time, and I remember some of those debates.
It was a U.N. process, but if you were going to have a governorate district-based list, you were either going to have a census, you were going to have some sort of institutional body to determine how many seats each district would have.
BRETT McGURK: In this country every time there’s a census, certain states lose seats in the House of Representatives, and there’s a couple years of litigation following that. There was no institutional mechanism in place to set that up. Also a census would take approximately a year.
So there are all these problems. There is also proposals to redraw district boundaries but under international law that raises serious questions about the authority of an occupation administration to redraw boundaries within an occupied territory.
So all these questions are on the table; they were considered. And it was the United Nations and their expertise, and I don’t fault them for this. I think the system is pretty good. It was “simple system first” kind of became the motto.
RAY SUAREZ: And making a workable system, Larry Diamond, out of a complicated situation on the ground, fair enough?
LARRY DIAMOND: Well, it certainly is complicated. No one is disputing that. I think you could have had, Ray, a process whereby you used the existing 18 provinces as multi-member districts.
You used either the census… existing census data or the existing food ration card data to assign some number, minimum number, of seats to each province and then used a second tier of distribution, as many political systems who have proportional representation do, to compensate for each list to ensure that there is greater proportionality and in seats-to- votes.
In other words, a combination of the system that’s being used now with a system of multi-member districts.
This would have ensured each province some minimum percentage of seats in parliament, some floor of representation, and might have been one way of assuring the Sunnis that the political process would be fair. But we have the system we have now.
The election is not going to be postponed, I think unfortunately, and so people need to turn their creative political engineering minds to the question of how the damage that’s been done by the potential exclusion of a section of the country can be repaired after the election.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, very briefly, how do you answer your own question? What’s the best that they can do given the situation on the ground in the days after Jan. 30?
LARRY DIAMOND: I think there will need to be a national conference or dialogue, Ray, in which they bring in the wide range of Sunni groups that met in Tikrit late in December and have formed a coalition and elected a leadership and think about amending the constitution to provide for supplementary election of some number of seats either indirectly or directly from the provinces if their proportion of the turnout is much, much less than in other sections of the country.
RAY SUAREZ: Brett McGurk, would that help in your view?
BRETT McGURK: Yes, but I remain… I don’t look at Iraq with any sort of a rose-colored lens. It’s a long road ahead. The insurgency is vicious. It’s not going to go away.
But the institutional arrangements in place now do lend some support for those who say the process is pretty good. And I think the statements of the political class in Iraq, I take some encouragement from that.
And I did see deals brokered on very controversial issues such as the role of Islam and so on in the transitional administrative law, brokered by the Kurdish leadership, the Sunni leadership and the Shia leadership.
And some of those issues will be revisited after elections but there’s a fairly sophisticated political class emerging in Iraq. I think let’s watch them work over the next year.
These elections are part of a process over the next year and I think there is room for some encouragement post-elections even if there’s violence in those Sunni-dominated provinces.
RAY SUAREZ: Brett McGurk, Larry Diamond, gentlemen, thank you both.