Iraqis vote in provincial elections

Iraqis voted Saturday in provincial elections in the first polling since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 2011. While violence has increased since the beginning of the year and over a dozen candidates (mostly Sunnis) were killed prior to the election, polling went without any major incidents. However, turnout was low with only about ...

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An Iraqi girl poses in front of the ink-stained finger of women after they voted at a polling station during provincial elections on April 20, 2013 in Baghdad. Iraqis voted in the country's first polls since US troops departed, a key test of the country's stability in the face of a spike in attacks that has claimed more than 100 lives. AFP PHOTO ALI AL-SAADI (Photo credit should read ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqis voted Saturday in provincial elections in the first polling since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 2011. While violence has increased since the beginning of the year and over a dozen candidates (mostly Sunnis) were killed prior to the election, polling went without any major incidents. However, turnout was low with only about 50 percent of Iraqis coming out to cast their ballots, and many Iraqis expressed frustration, apathy, or disgust toward the emerging political elite. About 8,138 candidates are competing for 447 provincial council seats. However, not all of Iraq's provinces planned on participating in Saturday's election, and two largely Sunni provinces were prevented from voting due to a security risk posed by anti-Maliki protesters, according to the Shiite-led cabinet. According to Iraqi officials, preliminary results from the election may be released Wednesday. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition is expected to perform well.

Syria

Syrian opposition activists reported a "massacre" in a Damascus suburb on Sunday. After five days of fierce fighting in Jdaidet al-Fadl, a strategic town near a Syrian military base between Daraa and Damascus, at least 80 people were estimated killed, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, including three children and six women. However, the death toll is expected to be much higher as bodies were difficult to identify. According to the opposition Local Coordination Committees (LCC) at least 450 bodies were found in the town, about 300 of whom were civilians and 150 members of the Free Syrian Army. Syria's state news agency SANA said government forces "inflicted big losses on terrorists in Jdaidet al Fadl and destroyed weapons and ammunition and killed and wounded members of the terrorist groups." On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced $123 million in U.S. assistance to Syrian opposition forces, including non-lethal military equipment.

Iraqis voted Saturday in provincial elections in the first polling since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December 2011. While violence has increased since the beginning of the year and over a dozen candidates (mostly Sunnis) were killed prior to the election, polling went without any major incidents. However, turnout was low with only about 50 percent of Iraqis coming out to cast their ballots, and many Iraqis expressed frustration, apathy, or disgust toward the emerging political elite. About 8,138 candidates are competing for 447 provincial council seats. However, not all of Iraq’s provinces planned on participating in Saturday’s election, and two largely Sunni provinces were prevented from voting due to a security risk posed by anti-Maliki protesters, according to the Shiite-led cabinet. According to Iraqi officials, preliminary results from the election may be released Wednesday. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition is expected to perform well.

Syria

Syrian opposition activists reported a “massacre” in a Damascus suburb on Sunday. After five days of fierce fighting in Jdaidet al-Fadl, a strategic town near a Syrian military base between Daraa and Damascus, at least 80 people were estimated killed, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, including three children and six women. However, the death toll is expected to be much higher as bodies were difficult to identify. According to the opposition Local Coordination Committees (LCC) at least 450 bodies were found in the town, about 300 of whom were civilians and 150 members of the Free Syrian Army. Syria’s state news agency SANA said government forces “inflicted big losses on terrorists in Jdaidet al Fadl and destroyed weapons and ammunition and killed and wounded members of the terrorist groups.” On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced $123 million in U.S. assistance to Syrian opposition forces, including non-lethal military equipment.

Headlines

  • Egypt’s Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki resigned Sunday over pressure from both Muslim Brotherhood supporters wanting to “cleanse” the judiciary and opposition activists accusing him of abandoning reform.
  • Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel won Sunday’s Grand Prix in Bahrain amid limited protests and heavy security.
  • Kuwait has granted bail for former MP and popular opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak, who was sentenced to five years in prison for insulting the emir.
  • According to Iranian media, a new round of talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program is planned with the International Atomic Energy Agency for May 21, but the date has not been confirmed.

 

Arguments and Analysis

Palestine After Fayyad: The Choice Between Cooperation and Conflict (Nathan Thrall, Foreign Affairs)

“Both Fayyad and Abbas learned that Western officials valued them not in spite of their poor relations with the two largest Palestinian political parties but because of them. In his final speech as prime minister, Abbas disparaged Israel and the United States for misleading him and making false promises. Similarly, more than anyone else, it was Fayyad’s Israeli and U.S. champions who betrayed him. His resignation was in no small part because of punitive financial measures that the United States and Israel recently took against the PA, which Fatah then used to whip up protests against Fayyad’s economic policies. The United States and Israel also punished Fayyad for Abbas’ decision to apply for an upgrade in status at the UN General Assembly in November 2012, and failed to show the Palestinian people that Fayyad’s program of close cooperation with Israel and the United States would advance them toward independence.

Whoever replaces Fayyad, especially if he or she is not on good terms with Fatah, will have to manage the same inverse relationship between domestic and Western support. His or her success or failure will rest in the hands of Fatah, which is too broken to accomplish much but is sufficiently coherent to undermine its enemies. The position of prime minister is inherently complicated; the person who fills the role bears responsibility for collecting the Israeli tax transfers and Western aid on which the PA depends, both of which are regularly withheld for reasons outside the prime minister’s control. Fayyad was not responsible for overall Palestinian strategy; instead, decisions over whether to fight, file suit against, negotiate, or cooperate with Israel lay with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and its chairman, Abbas. Fayyad ultimately fell because he became a scapegoat for the deeper problems of the Palestinian national movement — mainly, the political malaise induced by the PLO’s indecisiveness.”

In Syria, Unlearned Lessons from Libya (Stephen R. Weissman, In These Times)

“The U.S. appears to be following the same philosophy in Syria that it did in Libya in 2011-one laid bare by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comment after receiving the news that Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi had been killed: “We came, we saw, he died.” In other words, the U.S. believed that the best way of protecting Libyan civilians and promoting a democratic transition was to help armed insurgents overthrow the regime. Now, that approach seems to be solidifying into a Libya paradigm among Western policymakers. Already at work in Syria, it might someday be applied to internal conflicts in Iran, the Russian Caucusus or elsewhere.

But that paradigm warrants questioning. While military intervention succeeded in helping remove a brutal dictator and giving Libyans an opportunity to build a more accountable political system, it had other unfavorable consequences for Libya, the region and the world:

  • In the absence of an international peace-keeping force, lawless and revenge-seeking militias (similar to those that murdered U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens) are significantly constraining political progress in post-war Libya.
  • The undisciplined exit of arms, ethnic fighters and Islamist extremists from Libya precipitated the takeover of half the nation of Mali and strengthened Islamist extremist groups in North an
    d West Africa, including those who recently took foreign hostages at a natural gas installation in Algeria
  • Russia’s alienation over NATO’s interpretation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution authorizing U.S. and NATO military intervention has made it less willing to cooperate with the three Western Permanent members of the Council on managing the conflict in Syria and other matters
  • Iran and North Korea have drawn the lesson that abandoning their nuclear efforts-as Libya did-could risk Western-sponsored overthrow of their governments.”

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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