WikiLeaks: 2005-12-08: 05BAGHDAD4912: What Campaigning in Iraq Looks Like
Viewing cable 05BAGHDAD4912, WHAT CAMPAIGNING IN IRAQ LOOKS LIKE
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available. 082109Z Dec 05
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 004912 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV PREL IZ SUBJECT: WHAT CAMPAIGNING IN IRAQ LOOKS LIKE ¶1. With so much at stake, campaigning for the December 15 elections is intense. The security situation weighs heavily on the campaign, and leaders of the major coalitions make relatively few public appearances. That said, we sense there are more public campaign events than we saw in the January 2005 election. There is also much more sophisticated advertising on television, although smaller parties have a long way to go. Many amateurish parties in January failed to even highlight their list number. By contrast, all the election slates are highlighting their list numbers to help guide voters on the ballots. By contrast, all the election slates are highlighting their list numbers to help guide voters on the ballots. There have been instances of harassment, intimidation and even some murders of campaign workers. However, most parties have the opportunity to get their message out to at least some parts of Iraq. A bigger challenge for them is knowing how to get a message out and financing that campaign. ¶2. Here is a sampling of the campaigning so far: -- POSTERS/FLYERS: Walls around Baghdad and other Iraqi are covered in posters, often glued on top of posters hung up by another party the previous day. Posters are a common and widespread way of reaching voters in Iraq, particularly since many small parties lack the funds to purchase radio or television advertising. As an example, a Shia Alliance poster, with a picture of SCIRI leader Abdulaziz Al-Hakim and Ayatollah Sistani, contains the phrase "yes to the future of a secure and prosperous Iraq." Allawi posters appearing this week feature young adults and urge them to vote for their future. Recently, negative campaigning in the form of anti-Ayad Allawi posters and flyers has appeared, comparing Allawi with Saddam Hussein and associating him with the Ba'athist regime. One of these posters shows half of Saddam Hussein's face and half of Ayad Allawi's face and asks, "Who does this man remind you of?" -- TELEVISION/RADIO ADS: The Iraqi TV channels have plenty of information about the elections, including extensive advertising by the election commission about how to vote and how the ballots will be counted. (Comment: there is nothing even close to this level of detail about the election process on American television. End Comment.) TV is another effective way for parties to reach the Iraqi people, but, since it is expensive, only the largest coalitions/parties are using it much. Television ads are very common for the National Iraqi List (Allawi's coalition), the Shia Islamist Coalition, and the Kurdish Alliance. USAID has sponsored television spots for all parties on the al-Iraqiyah network, using the same length of time, studio, and background for all spots filmed. Some channels are closely affiliated with the parties: the Al- Furat satellite network is linked with SCIRI. During a televised Shia Alliance campaign rally, the lower left hand corner of the screen blinked an icon of a voter checkmark above "555". The Kurdish Alliance is utilizing a similar method on their satellite stations reminding people to choose "731". The low-budget TV ads just feature the candidate list leader as a talking head. Slicker ads feature man-on-the- street comments extolling the list or its leader. The slickest ads are from people like Allawi (who probably has the most ads on the air). One Allawi ad features individual Iraqis saying they want things like gasoline, electricity, dignity, water, jobs and the final speaker who wants a government that does what it pledges to do. Less verbal but clear is an ad for former Defense Minister Shalan. It features a young, frustrated musician attempting to beat out a tune on an Iraqi oud. He looks at the sheet music but can't get the song right. Suddenly a hand puts a new sheet of music in front of him and melody of Iraq's national anthem flies from his strings. The camera shows the sheet of music, which has the number 511 - that of Shalan's list. -- NEWSPAPERS: This is another common form of reaching voters, although illiteracy rates are high. Many newspapers are owned or are controlled by the major parties or major politicians. As examples, the Dar Al Salaam newspaper in Basrah is affiliated with the Iraqi Islamic Party (part of Tawafoq); al-Ittihad is affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK); and al-Bayan is affiliated with the Dawa Party. The newspapers will contain advertisements for their affiliated party (similar to the posters) and editorials in support of their party or against their competitors. For example, al-Bayan published an editorial November 27 entitled "Compare Before Choosing" that essentially endorsed the Shia Alliance as the best choice. -- CAMPAIGN RALLIES: These are less common given the security situation, but they do occur. Hussein Shalan from Allawi's 731 coalition told PolOffs December 6 that the National Iraqi List held a rally in Diwaniyah attended by 2,000 Iraqis, and the Shia Alliance has been holding rallies in the South led by Abdulaziz Al-Hakim - a recent rally in Amarah was televised on al-Furat television. During this rally, Al-Hakim told the people "in this election, there are some people who want to reintegrate the Ba'athists;" the crowded automatically shouted "No, No Allawi." INC leader Chalabi reportedly attended a December 7 Sadrist rally near Sadr City on the anniversary of the death of Mohammed Sadik al-Sadr; the Deputy Prime Minister told the crowd that Mohammed Sadik had helped to topple the former regime and that he (Chalabi) was present to participate in the event with his Sadrist brothers. Smaller campaign events do occur: the Unified Faili Kurd Coalition planned a small rally November 30 in the Faili Kurd section of Baghdad. The head of the list, Dr. Thair Faili, told us December 1 he has organized several walks through Faili districts of Baghdad, stopping to greet pedestrians and make impromptu speeches as he moves. He noted security is a risk and he keeps a team of bodyguards at his side all the time. -- TELEVISION DEBATES: On December 6, VP Shaykh Ghazi Al- Yawr (National Iraqi List), VP Adil Abdulmehdi (Shia Alliance), and Planning Minister Barhim Salah (Kurdish Alliance) debated on al-Arabiyah television. Al-Hurra held a widely watched panel debate with 8 candidates last week. USAID has also sponsored a political talk show "Elect for Iraq" that appears three days a week on al-Iraqiyah television with political candidates in front of a NGO- selected studio audience. -- MEETINGS/CONFERENCES: On December 1, a political event was held in Najaf in front of NGOs and the media where political parties were able to present their party platforms. In Basrah, 700 women attended an IIP-sponsored meeting, and 500-600 women reportedly attended a National Iraqi List meeting in Diwaniyah. Assyrian parties are reportedly holding townhall meetings. -- MOSQUES: Shia imams have used the Friday prayer service to endorse the Shia Alliance, and the Shia Alliance has been accused of using mosques as campaign offices. The Kurdish Islamic Union is reportedly conducting grassroots outreach efforts through mosques. -- CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS: In a unique gambit, the Sunni Arab Islamist Tawafoq list is using Ahmed Radhi, the most popular soccer player in Iraq and a coach for one of the popular teams in Iraq, in their posters and campaigning. -- CELL PHONE TEXT MESSAGES: A text message in Arabic has been sent to many Iraqna cell phones (Iraqna has the largest subscriber base in Iraq) that states: "The pillars of Islam are 5, the family of Muhammad are 5, there are 5 prayers in a day, and the number of the Coalition is 555. Vote, O Shia, and win in this world and the next." -- WEBSITES: All of the major parties have websites, but these are of limited use since the vast majority of Iraqis do have access to the web. -- OTHER: Parties often utilize vehicle parades with loudspeakers and banners attached to their vehicles to reach voters. In Diwaniyah, the National Iraqi List sponsored a cultural festival. Some parties give out trinkets: one poloff is the proud owner of an Ibrahim Jafari calendar urging a 555 vote. However, our general sense is that the Kurdish Alliance gives the best campaign souvenirs: one poloff scored a baseball cap with the 730 logo of the Kurdish Alliance, and another got a desk clock and a day planner for 2006. KHALILZAD