Chalabi Met Iran Quds Brigade Comm; Voting Begins in Iraq; Sadr’s warrant an Error

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Update: Deadly Attacks Mar Early Voting in Iraqi Elections

Lots of news from Iraq.

From Juan Cole:

Chalabi met Iran Quds Brigade commander; Voting begins in Iraq; Sadr’s warrant an Error

Al-Sharq al-Awsat says that it has gotten hold of an American intelligence document detailing undue Iranian influence in Iraq and in the Iraqi elections. The document says that Ahmad Chalabi and Ali al-Lami, influential members of the ‘Jusice and Accountability Committee’ in charge of purging Baathists from public life, met repeatedly with Iranian officials last fall. Among those they met were Qasim Sulaimani, head of the special forces Jerusalem (Quds) Brigade and the Iranian foreign minister. US Commanding Gen. in iraq, Ray Odierno, charged that Iran was behind the campaign to disqualify over 500 alleged Baathists from running in Iraq’s March 7 parliamentary, and this document seems to lend some credence to the allegation.

Anxiety among US officials about Iran’s influence, especially via militias such as the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, is underlined by WaPo today.

AP alleges that Iran is responsible behind the scenes for getting the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr Movement form a coalition, the National Iraqi Alliance.

Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer asks if Iraq is really a democracy, and comes up with a resounding ‘No!’ She gives as evidence the repeated arbitrary arrests of a Sunni Arab young man who served as a whistle-blower on Shiite militia ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in his neighborhood. She also quotes Ali Allawi on the lack of effective checks and balances.

Early voting begins today in Iraq for members of the armed services, hospital patients, and others who are prevented from getting to the polls on Sunday. Nearly a million persons are expected to cast a ballot on Thursday.

Some newspapers are asking whether the Sunni Arabs will flex their muscles in this election.. They may, but only if they do not vote on a sectarian basis. If Sunnis can make themselves an indispensable constituent of secular parties supported by Shiite urban middle classes, they can get some leverage. Otherwise, Iraq’s parliament at the moment has only one chamber, and electing explicitly Sunni Arab slates dooms them to insignificance, since they will only have a fifth of seats in parliament. Sunni Arabs in Iraq’s parliament will always be outvoted on an issue of national significance.

In something less than a resounding vote of confidence in the electoral progress, the Shiite grand ayatollahs said Tuesday that they are genuinely afraid of ballot fraud in the March 7 parliamentary elections.

The Iraqi government is now saying that the appearance of the name of Muqtada al-Sadr on an arrest list was an error, and that no attempt will in fact be make to take him into custody. (Sadr is now studing in seminary in Qom, Iran.]

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