The Scotsman: While Scots have been engrossed in our own General Election drama, an even more titanic power struggle has been taking place 3,000 miles away – one that could affect all our lives for the worse.
By Struan Stevenson
WHILE Scots have been engrossed in our own General Election drama, an even more titanic power struggle has been taking place 3,000 miles away – one that could affect all our lives for the worse.
I’m talking about the Iraqi election – a poll that has still not produced a government two months after voters went to the ballot box. The infighting created by Iraq’s complex PR voting system has given the Iranians the perfect chance to mastermind a victory for their puppet candidates. It highlights Iran’s aim to bring neighbouring countries firmly into its orbit, enabling it to spread its own poisonous brand of extremist Islam.
With Tehran’s dominance of Iraq looking increasingly certain, the powerlessness of the West to stop Iraq’s a slide into further sectarian violence has been exposed.
Following an internet appeal I made to Iraqis to expose instances of vote rigging in the campaign leading up to the March 7 election, I was deluged with disturbing accounts of fraud and intimidation on an industrial scale. In most cases, the paper trail led back to Tehran.
But in spite of the vicious bombings and assassinations and detention of opposition supporters, millions of Iraqis turned out to reject sectarian violence and religious fundamentalism – much to the dismay of the incumbent prime minister, the Tehran-backed Nouri al Maliki.
It took weeks for the results to be announced, but eventually the Iraqi electoral commission declared that the secularist, non-sectarian Al Iraqiya bloc headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi had won the most seats by a slim margin.
But the pro-Iran faction has refused to concede defeat. Maliki, who had declared the elections free and fair while he seemed ahead, cried foul and demanded a recount of every vote cast across Iraq. The electoral commission dismissed his call.
However, it soon emerged that Muqtada al Sadr, the anti-US bogeyman and former leading insurgent, had become the kingmaker. Holding a crucial bloc of 40 seats, he declared he would support neither Allawi nor Maliki, but threw his weight behind a third, pro-Iranian candidate – Ibrahim al Jaafari, who led Iraq’s governing council after the overthrow of Saddam.
Meanwhile, other pro-Iran parties put pressure on Iraq’s judges to insist on a recount of the four million votes cast in Baghdad. When political commentators observed that this was unlikely to make any difference to the outcome, Maliki started scrabbling around for allies.
Now the news has emerged that the two major Shi’ite blocs – the State of Law coalition headed by Maliki and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) which includes Sadr and Jaafari and is backed by Iran, have done a deal which places them only a few seats short of forming a new government. Reports suggest the deal was brokered inside the Iranian embassy in Baghdad.
So it looks like game, set and match for Iran. Once again, Iraq appears destined to slide back into sectarian division and violence, as the Iranian regime rubs its hands together in gleeful anticipation of their growing influence and spreading power.
What’s just as disturbing is the way Western countries have been prepared to ignore the chaotic aftermath of the Iraq’s elections – and its potentially dire consequences. With Barack Obama wanting to start bringing US troops home from August this year, it’s clear no-one in Washington wants to rock the boat by asking difficult questions about what sort of Iraq the Americans will leave behind them.
But by turning their backs on Iraq at a crucial moment in its less-than-perfect experiment with democracy, America and its allies could be abandoning Iraqis to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his cabal of ranting clerics.
• Struan Stevenson is a Conservative MEP reprenting for Scotland, president of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq and president of the Friends of Free Iran Intergroup.