DAMASCUS // Supporters of Iraq's outlawed Baath Party have threatened that violence will increase if the current prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, emerges with victory from the hotly contested election. In a series of interviews, exiled Baath Party members and advocates of resistance against US forces in Iraq all claimed the future intensity of militant action hinges directly on the election's outcome. If Ayad Allawi wins and becomes prime minister, violence will probably drop, they said. If Mr al Maliki is chosen for another term of office, the insurgency will gain momentum.
Final election results have yet to be announced, but with 95 per cent of votes counted, Mr Allawi and Mr al Maliki are running neck and neck. "It is a simple equation, Maliki is unacceptable and if he is the next prime minister, the resistance will be up," said a Baathist who had worked for Saddam Hussein's intelligence services in Baghdad, and who fought against US troops after the invasion in 2003. "Allawi is different: he can restore Iraq's standing, he can bring about unity and there will calm."
According to the former intelligence officer, talks had already taken place between representatives of Iraqiyya, the political coalition led by Mr Allawi, and the two main Baath Party wings, headed by Izzat Ibrahim al Douri and Yunis al Ahmad, both wanted men in Iraq. Unofficially, the two Baathist groups issued orders to their followers to vote for Mr Allawi, according to party members. "Those contacts have happened and I can assure you the Iraqi resistance will open dialogue with Allawi" as prime minister, the Baathist officer said. "Allawi is intelligent enough to know that in the end you must negotiate with the resistance; you cannot just destroy it."
During his term of office, Mr al Maliki said he would not negotiate with those fighting against his government and has blamed exiled Baathists, in conjunction with Islamic extremists, for orchestrating the continued insurgency. Before the election, candidates accused of Baathist links were subjected to a purge, something seen as a test case for Mr al Maliki's credentials as a unifying figure. Rather than tamp down the de-Baathification drive, however, he backed it, which analysts saw as a way of appealing to his grassroots Shiite support but alienating Sunnis and moderate Baathists who might previously have viewed Mr al Maliki as a nonsectarian, nationalist candidate.
"I don't see Allawi implementing a Baathist agenda if he is elected, but he is acceptable to the Baathists simply because they hate Maliki so much," said a political bureau member of the Union of Iraqi Liberation Forces (UILF), an insurgent coalition. He also spoke on condition of anonymity. "The Baathists think that if Allawi is prime minister he'll put an end to Iranian control of Iraq, while they see Maliki as an Iranian agent."
According to the UILF official, some hardline resistance groups actually supported Mr al Maliki's election bid because they feared their cause would be undermined if Mr Allawi were to control the country. "Many in the resistance don't like Allawi at all - he's [seen as] America's man - but because he's acceptable to the Baathists, it will divide them and undermine their cause," he said. "It will be harder for the resistance to fight if Allawi is in charge whereas they can expand their operations if Maliki wins because they'll get lots of support from Maliki's enemies."
Another Baathist, who refused to vote in the election, said he believed insurgents would be divided and possibly weakened if Iraqiyya becomes the main party of governance. "An Allawi-led coalition winning the election means the resistance is suddenly reduced and divided," he said. "Many of those [Baathists] who have supported Sunni or nationalist resistance will not fight Allawi. Some will continue to fight and that can be dangerous, it might make a Sunni-Sunni divide."
The Baathist also cautioned that Shiite- or Iranian-backed militants could re-emerge as a force if Mr Allawi were prime minister and seen as too anti-Tehran or too soft on the Baathists, who remain reviled by many in Iraq, particularly Shiites and Kurds, because of the crimes committed under Baath party rule. "If Maliki wins, he will face strong resistance, but if Allawi wins he will also face resistance," he said.
That view was shared by Khalid al Maeny, an Iraqi analyst working with the Syria-based Independent Studies Centre. He has close connections with nationalist resistance groups. "It's a complicated situation, the resistance has not been able to achieve its aims through the insurgency, and the government has not been able to totally defeat the insurgency," he said. "The main problem is that the underlying causes for violence are still all in place, regardless of the election winner.
"America and Iran are still present in Iraq and fighting for influence, neither will walk away without a fight; the Iraqi constitution itself enshrines the principle of ethnic and sectarian tensions; there is still widespread poverty, unemployment and dissatisfaction. "That means we can be certain of more bloodshed whoever wins the election." email@example.com