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Iraq election: a 'birther' movement and comparisons to Nazi Germany

Ahead of Iraq election results due today, the main challenger to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – Ayad Allawi – has been criticized for his mother's Lebanese citizenship and his ties to the CIA, with some comparing an Allawi victory to the Nazi gains in 1930s Germany.

By Hannah AllamMcClatchy Newspapers / March 26, 2010

Iraq election: Secular Iraqi candidate Ayad Allawi speaks during an interview with reporters in Beirut, March 19.

Jamal Saidi/Reuters



With Iraq election results expected in a matter of hours, secular Iraqi candidate Ayad Allawi has overcome extensive political maneuvering against him and emerged as the main challenger to incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, whose State of Law coalition is tied with Allawi's Iraqiya alliance in a race that's too close to call.

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With only a few thousand votes now separating the Allawi and Maliki coalitions, the election has shown that US forces are preparing to withdraw from a deeply fragmented Iraq in which sectarian interests remain paramount. As Allawi's ticket has gained steam, Maliki and other rival Shiite Muslims have hinted that their followers would rise up rather than accept a winning bloc of newly emboldened Sunnis, secular Shiites, and factions that they say are linked to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

Before the March 7 parliamentary elections, Allawi's political enemies purged his ticket of anyone they considered a Baathist, and on election eve, they disqualified many of the replacement candidates, too. Then, they took to the airwaves and the Internet to label Allawi a CIA tool, a Saddam Hussein sympathizer, and a sellout to his fellow Shiites for allying with prominent Sunnis. Finally, they questioned whether his mother's Lebanese citizenship barred him from seeking the post of prime minister, a strategy akin to the "birther" movement against President Barack Obama.

"It's very difficult for the political forces in power to accept that the Iraqiya collation led by Ayad Allawi could possibly reap such results in the elections," said Haider al Musawi, a political analyst at an independent, Baghdad-based research institute. "In their minds, the majority of the population of Iraq is Shiite and would, therefore, vote for Shiite parties. In spite of all the nationalist, nonsectarian propaganda, they took that for granted and therefore are shocked that quite a large number of Shiites must have voted for the secular Iraqiya coalition, too."

Fork in Iraq's road: Shiite-led democracy or pan-Arab authoritarianism?

A full tally of votes from the elections is due on Friday. Iraq's interior minister Thursday called for a delay because of the high potential for unrest, but Iraq's election commission refused to postpone the results.

In recent days, Maliki associates have taken to the streets in small protests and warned of a possible Shiite uprising if the votes don't end up in Maliki's favor. The prime minister himself demanded a manual vote recount in a sternly worded communiqué that warned of violence and invoked his status as commander-in-chief.

With the long-awaited results comes a new round in a battle that's far larger than Maliki and Allawi, two politicians with strongman tendencies and broad popular bases. Baghdad's political and clerical elites are casting the race as a fight for whether Iraq will continue down the thorny path of Shiite-led democracy or revert to the secular, pan-Arab authoritarian rule of the ancien regime. It's political hyperbole of the kind that leads to street violence in Iraq.