Dozens Killed in Iraq as Groups Works to Forge Government Wednesday was the bloodiest day in Iraq since elections were held last month. Nearly 60 people died in several separate attacks. Michael Rubin, former political advisor to the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority, talks about current conditions in Baghdad as the various Iraq groups try to form a permanent government.

Dozens Killed in Iraq as Groups Works to Forge Government

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In Iraq today, nearly 60 people were killed in separate--several attacks, the bloodiest day in Iraq since elections were held there last month. Michael Rubin, who worked for the US Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, is a frequent visitor to Iraq and a frequent guest on this program. He's been in Iraq a week now to find out what's been happening there as various Iraqi groups try to form a permanent government, and he joins us now from Baghdad on a cell phone I hope will last for us during this segment.

Nice to talk to you again, Michael.

Mr. MICHAEL RUBIN (Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute): Good talking to you. I hope this connection will last, too.

CONAN: It's thought that the level of coordination in today's attacks, wave of attacks across the country, may be a response by Sunni Arab insurgents to last month's largely peaceful parliamentary elections. Are you able to tell anything about that in Baghdad today?

Mr. RUBIN: I can't tell anything specifically about that. It's one of those cases that when you're in the middle of the maelstrom, sometimes it's easier to get good information on the outside rather than when you're right here. I've heard a lot of talk, but rumors fly. I really don't know.

CONAN: Well, speaking of Sunnis and rumors, they have been charging ever since election day that there was widespread voter fraud, that their votes were massively undercounted. Is there anything to that?

Mr. RUBIN: Actually, the problem here--and this is relevant because I believe either yesterday or today an international commission arrived--is that you have a situation that is going to be very hard to rectify. There are a lot of complaints among Sunnis and among some of the secular liberal politicians--and you're about to get a helicopter overhead...


Mr. RUBIN: ...that there was voter fraud. And specifically the reason this can't be rectified is they said that what happened wasn't that ballots were stuffed, and it wasn't that--sorry, just a second--it wasn't that ballots were stuffed, and it was not that ballots disappeared.

(Soundbite of helicopter)

Mr. RUBIN: Sorry, it will be over in a second.

CONAN: All right. We'll wait it out with you, Michael.

Mr. RUBIN: OK. It wasn't that ballots were stuffed or that ballots disappeared; it's that many of the votes for some of the secular and liberal candidates like Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister, were spoiled, and what I mean by that is more than one check mark was made. Oftentimes, the additional check mark was for this United Iraqi Alliance, and so it's the Iraqi equivalent of a hanging chad. You have a ballot, but there's no way that you can recount it because the ballot has pretty much been spoiled. And so that's the situation.

Now a lot of the Iraqis have said, `OK, this election was fraudulent. There's nothing we can do. We can't move forward, so let's work out a compromise.' And so for the last week, many of the main politicians have been up in Kurdistan trying to start these negotiations. You've had a heck of a lot of activity, but it's sort of been like hamsters spinning in a wheel. There just isn't a lot that's coming out of it other than impasse.

And what the impasse really revolves around isn't just the Sunnis; it involves the United Iraqi Alliance because the United Iraqi Alliance isn't very united. There's factions within it, and you have multiple candidates within the United Iraqi Alliance, which everyone says got the most votes--you had multiple candidates for prime minister. The current prime minister, Ibrahim Jafari, wants to retain his job. SCIRI, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, wants to put forth Adel Mahdi. The problem is Adel Mahdi isn't popular among many Shia, and Jafari also lacks a bit of popularity, and the Kurds really dislike him; the reason being because the United Iraqi Alliance doesn't have a united position about federalism, which is really important both to the Kurds and increasingly to some Sunnis.

So what you have is a lot of jockeying for power, a lot of jockeying for `OK, let's feel out a coalition,' but until the United Iraqi Alliance decides who they're going to have--and that's an internal decision--as their candidate, no one can really come to any conclusions because so many people--so much of the Iraqi politics depends on personality.

Now the trend that's going on now is that you have a lot--because of this big impasse between these two main candidates, Jafari and Adel Mahdi, you're starting to have other candidates, potential compromise candidates, come forward. And so what you might have is another two weeks of frantic activity going nowhere.

CONAN: Michael Rubin, we'll check back in with you from time to time as these negotiations continue. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. RUBIN: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Michael Rubin, a former political adviser to the US Coalition Provisional Authority, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington, DC. We spoke to him on a pretty good cell phone line in Baghdad.

I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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