by HEATHER ROBINSON
Last week, following its review of documents charging fraud in Iraq’s March 7 elections, an Iraqi court ordered a recount of votes in Baghdad.
Iraqi Parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi, who ran on a platform of Iraqi relations with Israel and counter-terrorism cooperation with other democracies, including the United States, believes this development could produce a fair count for liberals like him — who he thinks were shafted in March 7 elections that he believes were corrupted by Iran and the Saudis.
But he warns that the recount should be independently monitored, including by representatives of the United States. Otherwise, the corruption that he believes took place in last month’s elections will only be repeated.
“It will be a disaster if the same people who did the first counting will do the second counting,” Alusi said.
Alusi spoke with Faraj al-Haidari, head of the Iraqi Electoral Commission, who told him the recount will include 1,023 polling stations out of 11,000 in Baghdad. Alusi believes those stations where Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc did poorly have been cherry-picked for recounting so as to benefit Maliki. So while the recount has the potential to yield a more accurate count, it will not yield one without international supervision, he maintains. In fact, absent real supervision by the United Nations Security Council and the U.S.,”it [will not be] a real recount, but a game, and the result will be a disaster and a security problem.”
The Iraqi court’s ruling — which it handed down last Monday after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition submitted 4,000 documents as evidence of fraud — highlights error on the part of the United Nations and the Obama Administration in certifying the March 7 election, Alusi maintains.
“This [court ruling] is proof that something was wrong with the [March 7] election,” Alusi said. “The U.N. said the Iraqi election was clean, and the U.S. government said the Iraqi election was clean. Now we have it from [an] Iraqi court — there is much proof that causes us to recount the results. That’s what we said from the beginning. The European Commission did say it from the beginning, too.”
Struan Stevenson, President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq, said in a phone interview from Scotland Friday that he believes that powers weighing in on Iraq’s election have willfully denied serious allegations of widespread fraud and voter intimidation.
“The U.S., the E.U., and the U.N. are like the three wise monkeys — see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” said Stevenson. “Any allegation that there’s been widespread fraud or intimidation could bog them down and trap them into staying [in Iraq.] They are covering their eyes … and saying, ‘Just come to a decision as quickly as possible so we can get out of here.’”
Alusi says that, although the court’s mandate of a Baghdad recount opens a window of opportunity for a more accurate count, signs are already pointing in the direction of more fraud due to lack of independent monitoring, especially by the U.S.
For one thing, Alusi says the Iraqi Election Commission has announced plans to transport ballots to three different locations for the counting, which strikes him as “not kosher.”
“If you are recounting Baghdad votes, why not in one area?” he says.
Alusi, a Sunni, is no stranger to controversy. In 2004, as then-culture director of the Iraqi interim government’s Office of de-Baathification, he traveled to Israel to promote cooperation between Iraq and the Jewish state. As payback for breaking the taboo in Iraqi society against going to Israel, terrorists murdered his two grown sons. Refusing to be intimidated, Alusi stayed in Iraq, got his political party, which champions human rights and counter-terrorism, onto the ballot, and won a seat in the December 2005 elections.
Now he believes that he and fellow liberals like Shiite politician Iyad Jamal al-Din are victims of fraud by forces within Iraq who are beholden to Iran and Saudi Arabia — and who don’t like the liberals’ straight talk about how those powers need to stay out of Iraq.
“I heard it from my people 500 times, ‘How can America let fascists hijack the election?’” he told me. “Simple people say, ‘This is the time to have change, to stop Iranian influence.’
“The common people say, ‘What is this? America saved Iraq for Saudi Arabia and Iran?’
“To let this election stand … sends a bad message to normal, ordinary people. They will ask why we should support a fight against the fascists if the U.S. closes its eyes [to fraud]?”
Alusi maintains that ordinary Iraqis who risked their lives to vote in the March 7 elections want to know that the count is fair — and want the U.S. to help in ensuring it is. He appeals to President Obama to lend U.S. oversight to the Baghdad recount.
“Mr. Obama, he is a democrat, we need him to listen,” Alusi said. “We need you to support not just us [liberals] but also your interests in the Middle East….America needs to continue guiding Iraq in the right direction to have a democratic process.”
Alusi stressed that the democratic process means not just elections, but guidance and supervision in “the values and conduct of elections.”
“People on the street want to see America strong in Iraq,” he said, “not in military machinery but in support of the democratic process.” Since the recount, which is scheduled for this week, will take at least 10 days, Alusi maintains there is still time for the Obama Administration to articulate a position regarding the Iraqi election and take steps to ensure the recount is properly supervised.
“The U.S. and the U.N. can step in, they have done it in Afghanistan,” he says. “If D.C. asks for answers, at least people who are playing games will know there are people watching.”