January 28, 2005 | Memo

The Iraqi Elections

Jonathan L. Snow                                                                                                                                                                                       January 28, 2005

Basic Facts

  • Election Date:  January 30 2005
  • Terms and Responsibilities of Candidates:  The January 30, 2005 election will be for a 275-member Transitional National Assembly that will serve for one year.  The assembly will have the power to make laws, choose a government, and draw up a draft permanent constitution.  This draft constitution must be completed by August 15, 2005 and must be submitted to referendum by October 15, 2005.  The permanent constitution can be vetoed by any three provinces, guaranteeing the influence of the minority Sunnis and Kurds in shaping the future of Iraq.  The government will be comprised of a prime minister, a president, and two deputies, all selected by and from members of the assembly.  In addition to the national assembly, elections will take place simultaneously for local assemblies in each of Iraq’s 18 provinces and also for the 111 member Kurdistan National Assembly.
  • Eligibility of Candidates:  To be eligible to run for the assembly, individuals must be at least 30 years old, must not be a former “senior Ba’athist” or a current member of the armed forces.  Party lists must contain at least 12 candidates, and every third candidate on the list must be a woman.
  • Election Oversight:  The UN has helped the Iraqis prepare for elections, but has called for other groups to monitor and determine whether they are “free and fair.” 


Election Mechanics

  • Polling Locations:  According to media reports, there are expected to be more than 5,500 polling stations in operation across Iraq.  The locations of the polling places are being kept secret at this time for security reasons, but will be announced on Saturday, January 29, 2005.
  • Ballot Procedures:  All voters will have a finger marked with indelible ink at the polling station to minimize the possibility of repeat voting.  This is a standard practice throughout many democracies, and was recently used in the Palestinian elections. 
  • Vote Counting:  Immediately following the close of the polls, each polling station will count its own ballots.  Votes will be considered valid if the intention of the voter is clear on the ballot.


Key Political Parties and Coalitions

  • Most Iraqi political parties have formed coalitions to present lists of candidates for the election. Some of the largest coalitions include:

·    Unified Iraqi Coalition (Sometimes translated as United Iraqi Alliance):  Considered the frontrunner, this is an alliance of the two largest Shi’a Islamist parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Da’wa, as well as many smaller groups including the Iraqi National Congress (INC, led by Ahmad Chalabi) and candidates tied to the radical Islamist cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. The UIC has both the tactical support and the blessing of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has called voting a “religious obligation.”

·    Iraqi List:  This list is headed by current Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his party, the Iraqi National Accord (INA), along with other ministers in the soon to be defunct Iraqi Interim Government, religious figures, and tribal leaders.  Mostly Shi’a in composition, this coalition is expected to be the main competitor for the UIC.

·    Kurdistan Alliance List:  This coalition represents the major Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) as well as many smaller Kurdish groups from across the ideological spectrum including the Kurdistan Islamic Union. It also contains Chaldean and Assyrian Christian, as well as ethnic Turkomen and independents.

·    Gathering of Iraqi Democrats: Headed by former Iraqi Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi, a leading Sunni Arab political figure. This secular group contains Sunnis and Shi’a and casts itself as the main representatives of the Sunni Arabs.

·    The People’s Union:  A list comprised of the Iraqi Communist Party and its left-wing allies.

·    Iraqi Turkomen Front:  A coalition of the Turkomen parties, from across the ideological spectrum.

·    Rafidain National Ticket:  Consisting of Assyrian and Chaldean Christian groups.

·    The Iraqis:  Led by current Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir and Defense Minister Hazem al-Shaalan, a se
ular list that does not seem to have much popular support.

·    Constitutional Monarchy Movement:  A secular list led by Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, a cousin of the Iraqi king deposed by the 1958 coup.

·    Iraqi Islamic Party:  A Sunni Arab party close to the Muslim Brotherhood led by former Iraqi Governing Council member Dr. Muhsin Abd-al-Hamid.  There have been conflicting reports as to whether this group would participate in the elections.


Election Security

  • Authorities:  Most of the security at polling places will be provided by the Iraqi security forces.  Additional security throughout the country will be provided by Coalition forces, including members of the U.S. military, whose numbers were recently increased from 135,000 to 150,000 in preparation for the elections.
  • Plans:  There will be a three day “public holiday” surrounding the vote, with most economic and social activities curtailed to minimize terrorism targets. During these days, land borders will be sealed, vehicles will only be allowed on the roads with a special permit, curfews will be enforced (and extended by one hour), and shops and offices will remain closed.
  • Terrorist Activity:  It is expected that terrorists and insurgents will use the election as an opportunity to launch numerous attacks against civilians and polling stations.  The terrorists view democracy as a threat to Islam, in the case of Zarqawi, and for Sunni Arab insurgents, to historic Sunni Arab and more recent Ba’athist dominance of Iraq. A successful election could deal a serious blow to the morale and recruitment activities of these groups. They are unlikely to allow the elections to proceed unhindered.  Zarqawi released an audio tape which stated that he and his followers “have declared a bitter war against democracy and all those who seek to enact it.”  His followers have distributed flyers warning would be voters that they intend to “wash the streets of Baghdad with the voters’ blood.”



Additional Information

Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq; MSNBC – The Iraqi Election: Key Facts; MSNBC –  Who’s Who in the Iraqi Election; Washington Post – Q&A: Elections in Iraq; New York Times – The Election in Iraq; BBC – Iraq Elections at-a-Glance; RFU-RL – Iraq Votes 2005;