Iraq's electoral commission announced today that a recount of votes in Baghdad from the March 7 elections will start next Monday.
But a prominent Iraqi liberal is warning that, absent sufficient oversight from the U.S., the recount could be a repeat of the election.
Iraqi liberal Mithal al-Alusi, who raised concerns about fraud against himself and fellow liberals after he lost his seat in Parliament in the March 7 elections, is now raising concerns about a potential lack of oversight of the Baghdad recount that he says could lead to a repeat of the fraud that prompted the recount in the first place.
"It will be a disaster if the same people who did the first counting will do the second counting," Alusi told me in a phone interview from Baghdad.
Alusi is no stranger to controversy. Iraqi-born and bred, in the 1970's he protested Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses, and was forced to flee the middle east for his life. He returned to Iraq with his two grown sons following the U.S. invasion and took a position as culture director of the de-Baathification commission in the Iraqi interim government.
In 2004, he traveled to Israel to participate in a counter-terrorism conference. In response to breaking the taboo in Iraqi society against visiting the Jewish state, terrorists killed his two sons. Refusing to be intimidated, Alusi stayed in Iraq, got his political party, the Iraqi Nation Party, onto the ballot, and won a seat in the December, 2005 elections.
Now this maverick Iraqi, whose political party platform champions values like the rule of law, press freedom, and women's rights, is calling on the Obama Administration to oversee the Baghdad recount.
"Mr. Obama, he is a democrat, we need him to listen," Alusi said. "We need you to support not just us [liberals] but also your interests in the Middle East....America needs to continue guiding Iraq in the right direction to have a democratic process."
Since the recount is scheduled to begin next week, Alusi maintains there is still time for the Obama Administration to take steps to ensure the recount is properly supervised.
"The U.S. and the U.N. can step in, they have done it in Afghanistan," he says. "If D.C. asks for answers, at least people who are playing games will know there are people watching."
Alusi believes that elements in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have corrupted the Iraqi elections by supporting Islamist candidates who will be beholden to those regimes.
He believes the recount is allowing the U.S. a window of opportunity to show forces in the region that want to seize power in Iraq that America remains committed to democracy and will not let terrorist elements take over.
"America needs to keep guiding Iraq in the right direction to have a democratic process [in terms of] elections and the values and conduct of elections," Alusi said.
He says he is concerned about the ordinary, peaceful majority in Iraq, who want to know the count is fair - and who he says are looking to the U.S. to help insure it is.
"I heard it from my people 500 times, 'How can America let fascists hijack the election?'" he told me. "Simple people say, 'This is the time to have change, to stop Iranian influence.'
"The common people say, 'What is this? America saved Iraq for Saudi Arabia and Iran?'
"To let this election stand ... sends a bad message to normal, ordinary people. They will ask why we should support a fight against the fascists if the U.S. closes its eyes [to fraud]?"
In the weeks since the March 7 election, Alusi says the security situation has begun to deteriorate in Iraq. He believes this deterioration is a result of not only the vacuum being created by the uncertainty over the election, but a response to the lack of help with the recount from the Obama Administration.
"America took the position the election was good, the result was acceptable...but people on the [Iraqi] street, small citizens, young and old, say the election was false," Alusi said. "Now we have it from [an] Iraqi court -- there is much proof that causes us to recount the results...If America still says the election was clean, there is no trust in Iraq regarding U.S. policy because there is no U.S. position."
He attributes what he describes as growing insecurity in Iraq to the power vacuum being created by perceptions of electoral corruption.
"Extremists are on the street, controlling corners and big areas," he said. "Think about what will happen in the U.S. if there is no government and the politicians are weak and the people didn't trust the government. Immediately you will have mafia very strong, chaos. We are no different."
Alusi would like to see the U.S. step up and send diplomats from the U.S. embassy to oversee the recount, or join the U.N. Security Council in overseeing it.
"America has a responsibility to support the democratic process in Iraq. [But] it can't be done through a 'democratic show' that is really in the hands of militias and terrorists.
"It is not a real recount [being planned], but a game, and the result will be a disaster and a security problem" if the U.S. does not step in to oversee the count, he maintains.
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