Global Policy Forum

Al-Dhari Explains Sunni Arab Boycott


By Juan Cole

Informed Comment
December 10, 2004

Hareth al-Dhari spoke out Thursday about the reasons for which his Association of Muslim Scholars urges a boycott of the Iraqi elections planned for January 30. According to opinion polls, al-Dhari is among the most popular Sunni Arab politicians in the country, and his AMS has emerged as certainly the most important political grouping.

"The independent election commission in Iraq considered Iraq a single constituency, despite its huge space (438,000km). Also, the UN has pledged to send 25 observers, only seven of whom have arrived, to monitor the ballots." Al-Dari drew comparison with the UN-supervised 2001 elections in Eastern Timor , where the UN divided the tiny country into 12 constituencies and sent around 300-400 observers to monitor the ballots. "This, in a nutshell, means the United Nations could not be monitoring the elections in Iraq."

This is a fair point. There are amazingly few UN election workers in Iraq.

"Al-Dari added that it was impossible for fair or free elections to be held under the US occupation as it would create unhealthy reality that leads to marginalizing any Iraqi force opposed to the occupation . . . "Taking part in elections like these means nothing but to grant legitimacy to a completely illegal situation."

This way of thinking is completely self-defeating and also historically inaccurate. Nehru would not have been prime minister of an independent India if the Congress Party had not fought elections under British colonial domination. Sistani has the right idea here.

Al-Dhari has too high opinion of what has been accomplished by the Sunni Arab guerrilla war, and seems to have a completely unrealistic notion of what the situation will be like if Sunni Arabs have little representation in parliament. They could then only be spoilers, but could not get much positive that they want.

"The range of those opposed to the elections is getting wider and wider, further feeding indications that the polls could be put off," Muthanna Harith Al-Dari said. He said more than 69 Iraqi groups of various Iraqi sects and a list of 106 dignitaries living abroad have already signed a petition calling for boycotting the polls. "A quarter of the Iraqi dignitaries who signed the petition are Shiites," Al-Dari said, a few hours before representatives of the Shiite community announced a broad-based coalition of 22 political parties to run in national elections.

The point is that all these groups are tiny, whereas the really big important parties are revving up to win the elections.

In short, Al-Dhari is wrong that the guerrilla fighters have achieved much positive; he is wrong that cooperating with elections cannot result in independence; he is wrong that the boycott movement is significant outside the Sunni Arabs. The only thing he is right about is that the technical preparations for the elections are problematic.

I was at a public event on Thursday night and someone asked me why the Sunni Arabs didn't just take the best deal they could get. I replied that they think they are the real majority of the country, or that is the public pose (requiring them to invent a million Iranian Shiite infiltrators to explain all those extra Shiites). They think they can push the Americans around and maybe even push them out of the country. They think once the US is gone, they will have a better, not worse chance, at regaining something like their former political ascendence.

In other words, they seem to be living in a dangerous fantasy land.

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