Much early post-election commentary widely interpreted the vote as a defeat of religious parties and of Iran; and as a victory for secularism, moderation – and the United States (which pushed for these elections and needed a peaceful poll as evidence of Iraq’s upward trajectory as it prepares to pull out).
The reality is a good deal more complex. If these elections are a positive step in Iraq’s tortured quest to reinvent itself, it may be because both the United States and Iran gained. Tehran wants a friendly regime in Baghdad running a state that is sufficiently strong to hold the country together, but not so powerful that it could again invade its neighbour. It may have established, funded, equipped and trained ISCI – but it has supported a number of Iraqi groups since 2003, sometimes playing one against another, before mediating a new accommodation between them.
On balance, victory has gone to parties that oppose the notion of regionalisation advocated by ISCI and the Kurds, led by a Shi’a prime minister who has openly called for a stronger central state. This reinforces rather than undermines the Iranian agenda.
Archive for the ‘Iraq: Elections’ Category
It seems last Saturday’s provincial elections have indeed transformed Iraq’s political landscape — but not quite the way many of us expected.
First of all, the Sunni vote in Anbar appears to have been split between the Awakenings and IIP. The rifle-brandishing sheikhs have so far rejected any suggestion of power sharing, let alone accepting IIP victory. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
Second, the losers. The Kurds in Mosul, obviously. Also, the Sunnis in Baghdad. Marc Lynch provides background:
[...] A dramatic increase in Sunni representation (commensurate with their aspirations) was always unlikely for one big reason: the clearly visible refusal to take serious measures to allow refugees or internally displaced persons to vote. IDPs were technically enfranchised, but the rule that they vote in their place of origin and the inefficiency of the bureaucracy ensured that few actually would. [...] According to IOM’s authoritative surveys, about 64% of Iraqi displaced come from Baghdad — and it is in Baghdad where the effects of their disenfranchisement are most being felt. With less than 10% (or even 20%) of the seats in the Baghdad council, Sunnis may well feel that this warning has come true. How will they react?
But the biggest news is the decimation of ISCI. Reidar Visser makes a point you won’t see in mainstream American headlines:
Overall, this should serve as a wake-up call to the outside world, which tirelessly has sought to comply with the sectarian logic embraced by ISCI – in terms of ethno-sectarian quotas, sectarian variants of federalism, and the retrograde concept of ‘disputed areas’. It is high time that Western politicians realise that the party they have been considering as the key to Iraq’s Shiite community (and sometimes have singled out as the likely provider of the next Iraqi premier) actually commands less than 10% support in the constituency it purports to represent. In other words, for much of the period since 2003, America’s policy in Iraq has probably not enjoyed the support of more than 25% of the country’s politicians (the two Kurdish parties and ISCI). Yet, still today, Iraqis continue to be the prisoners of the ethno-sectarian system of government that emerged in this period and was designed by the two Kurdish parties and ISCI.
With provisional results from Saturday’s provincial elections due shortly, tension is building in Iraq — or maybe it’s just tension among journos expecting another explosion of violence.
The Washington Post has ventured out to Ramadi and interviewed Anbar’s Sunni sheikhs who announce, with voices “dipping to a quiet growl”, that they won’t stand for the despised IIP winning:
‘An honest dictatorship is better than a democracy won through fraud,’ Abu Risha said. [...] What would happen if his rivals win? ‘Disaster,’ he warned.
Abdul Rahman al-Jenabi stood up, his voice rising in anger. His tribesmen, he said, had paid a high price for turning against al-Qaeda, and they wanted to see change in the province’s leadership. ‘We don’t want to use force, but I am afraid that if the situation erupted, we could not control our tribesmen anymore. They don’t want to see this corrupted government continue.’
In a word: menacing.
There are many complex sociological theories about why people turn to violence to advance their goals. Mine is simple: when peace becomes more valuable than war, violence stops. As long as you have too much to lose, or nothing at all, and have ready access to the tools, you’re likely to believe spilling blood is worth it. But once you’re allowed to taste what peace has to offer, things change. Most people would rather have a reasonably happy life for their kids than burn their own house down.
Whether Iraq has crossed this threshold remains to be seen. I’m not willing to wager either way. But if they do pull off this election without a bloodbath, it’s pretty safe to say they have a working chance of getting to the next one without disintegrating.
A few months ago I suggested that those advocating rapid transition to Western-style democracy for countries like Iraq and Afghanistan should read Thomas Carothers’s 2002 essay “The End of the Transition Paradigm”, which attacks such misconceptions as…
- … countries moving away from authoritarianism tend to follow a three-part process of democratization consisting of opening, breakthrough, and consolidation;
- … the establishment of regular, genuine elections will not only give new governments democratic legitimacy but foster a longer term deepening of democratic participation and accountability;
- … a country’s chances for successfully democratizing depend primarily on the political intentions and actions of its political elites without significant influence from underlying economic, social, and institutional conditions and legacies;
- … state-building is a secondary challenge to democracy-building and largely compatible with it.
In a recent post, Andrew Sullivan quotes a Fallujah veteran, whose memories of the 2005 election eerily echo Carothers:
Setting the conditions to allow this election was the major objective of my unit at the time, and we all did everything we could to encourage the large turnout. But it seemed to me then, and still does, that this early emphasis on elections was certain to backfire. Our political leaders were selling elections as if they were a magical cure for all the problems of Iraq, that, simply by voting, Iraq would become like all the other democracies in the world. And this clearly was not the case.
Read it all. And try not to think about Afghanistan.
Working against a deadline, so a couple of quick links will have to do for now:
At Foreign Policy, Marc Lynch pours cold water on the rapturous reception of Iraq’s provincial elections, with special emphasis on Anbar.
At Jihadica, Anne Stenersen looks at the lack of a unified strategy by AQ and its affiliates on how to target Germany.
At Boston Globe, Richard Clarke offers a concise explanation of what ‘extraordinary rendition’ actually means.
Iraqis held their most peaceful election since the fall of Saddam Hussein on Saturday, voting for provincial councils without a single major attack in a poll that demonstrated the country’s dramatic security gains.
Good for you, guys. Another important step to convince us skeptics that peace may be at hand after all.
Ever wonder what went on inside the Iraqi parliament last week as lawmakers tried to muster a quorum to vote on the much-needed provincial elections law?
Waleed Ibrahim provides an amazing behind-the-scenes look in the Reuters Global News Blog:
A Shi’ite lawmaker accused Sunnis of following a ‘foreign Arab agenda’. A Sunni accused the Shi’ites of pursuing a ‘foreign Iranian agenda’. Kurds branded their opponents ‘the remaining Baathists’ — Saddam’s party that ruled through fear.
It was never clear when a parliamentary session would start. Often deputies only managed to keep them going for a few minutes before they broke down. Most of the time lawmakers could not even agree to enter the chamber, meaning no quorum.
If one camp accepted a proposal, the other would reject it. If the second camp shifted its stance in favour, the first would then perform a U-turn — suspicious their rivals had spotted something in it that would give them an edge.
As an Iraqi reporter covering my country for Reuters since April 2003, I’ve seen this drama play out countless times, as lawmakers fashioned a new Iraq even as an insurgency raged outside the fortified Green Zone where parliament sits.
But my sense is that there has been no progress at all in building trust between rival political groups, with parties trapped in a cycle of obstruction and recrimination.
Despite phone calls to legislators by President George W. Bush, and last-minute rescue attempts by UN and US diplomats, Iraqi politicians yesterday failed to reach a consensus on the crucial provincial elections law. This means several things:
- Provincial elections will not be held before the end of 2008. In fact, according to a UN spokesman quoted by McClatchy, they may not be held before July 2009.
- “The Powers That Aren’t”, who include former Sunni insurgents in Anbar and Diyala, will see this as part of a conspiracy by the “Powers That Be” — Maliki and his ISCI and IIP backers — to cling to power which isn’t theirs. Whether this means the PTA will return to violence is anyone’s guess, but the outlook is not promising.
- Arab anger over Kirkuk will grow. Ethnic hatred knows no summer recess, and the situation will only go from bad to worse while the lawmakers dilly-dally. Juan Cole and Missing Links are following local press reports.
- Republican presidential candidate John McCain will not have his “October Surprise”, which is good news, since it probably means the U.S. will back off a little and hopefully give the Iraqis more time to sort things out.
As Dr. iRack, fresh from a trip across Iraq, puts it: “The failure to pass the law, and the significant delay in elections it seems likely to produce, will put huge strains on the fragile calm that has descended across Iraq.”
Leaders of the Awakenings have been warning that they are ‘losing patience’ and ‘the next few months will be decisive’ so many times that I suspect some people have stopped taking them seriously. As with the evident nonchalance about the prospects of the major Sunni insurgency factions flipping back to the other side, this seems to rest on a notion that they have nowhere else to go and that there is neither the ability nor the desire to go back to the insurgency (‘we don’t need to accommodate those hoodlums,’ pace General Keane). This strikes me as a very dangerous bit of best-case scenario thinking, of a kind which hurt American efforts in the past and has continued to mar the analysis of surge cheerleaders throughout. There are all kinds of warning lights blinking, from both the Awakenings and from the insurgency factions whose members make up many of their cadres outside of Anbar.
At least, the actions of PTB are understandable: they simply want to grab ever more power, and to exclude everyone else. What is more difficult to understand is the behaviour of the international players. Why, for example, does the United States continue to support this steadily declining force? Previously, Washington may have considered them more malleable and susceptible to pressure, even if this factor is less evident today, and despite the fact that question marks concerning Iran’s influence in the PTB camp linger. But the Iraq that is being built by reliance on the PTB simply isn’t a sustainable one. Because it is based on appetite for power and extreme opportunism alone, it cannot survive except through the application of brute force and the use of material power: concrete walls (as seen in Baghdad), bribes to political enemies (particularly prominent among the Sunni tribes), and authoritarian handling of internal opponents (such as the Sadrists). When Washington’s ability and willingness to finance these kinds of measures come to an end, the only way forward will be increased authoritarianism or increased reliance on regional patrons.