Are Iraqi Elections a Panacea?

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Iraq Views: 3829

President Bush, in his second inaugural address, used soaring idealistic rhetoric to tell us that he was going to democratize the Middle East. After the recent Iraqi elections, he declared a triumphant moment in that effort. Yet those elections-with their predictable results-may not mean much for the future of Iraq and might, when combined with other U.S. policies in the Islamic world, reinforce world perceptions of U.S. foreign policy as hypocritical.

Iraqis should be commended for risking their lives to vote. Sadly, it may ultimately be in vain. The heavy turnout in Shi'ite localities and the light turnout in Sunni areas were predictable. The problem is that the Sunni insurgents may actually benefit from the increased estrangement of the Sunni community from the rest of the country, once it becomes clear the Sunnis are underrepresented in the new national assembly. The heavy voter turnout in the Shi'ite areas is not an endorsement of the continued U.S. occupation of Iraq. Instead it reflects a desire for the traditionally oppressed Shi'a to rule the other ethnic groups and the novelty of a real choice in elections after decades of sham plebiscites under multiple dictators.

Merely having elections doesn't guarantee that a unified Iraq will achieve a violence-free liberal federation. If the elected Shi'ite regime governs oppressively, the Sunni rebellion will be further inflamed. In any democracy, the majority-if given political power-can oppress minorities. After all, the Sunnis are now fighting, in part, to prevent "paybacks" from a Shi'ite government for all of the oppression that the Sunnis dished out to the Shi'a over the years.

The Kurds-the other substantial minority in Iraq-have been friendly to the U.S. occupation and turned out in large numbers to vote. If the new government doesn't allow them to keep the autonomy they have enjoyed since the first Persian Gulf War, they could get surly very quickly. From the time of Iraq's creation in the 1920s, the Kurds have never wanted to be part of Iraq but were forced to do so by the British and subsequent Sunni rulers. Their militias are the strongest in Iraq.

Thus, democracy matters less in Iraq today than does liberty-that is, minority rights. Many despotic governments have come to power through elections, including Hitler's Third Reich. Although the Shi'ite politicians are paying lip service to the notion that they will avoid an Iranian-style "Islamic republic," that is their preference. If minority rights are not honored, civil war is very likely to occur.

Even if the election in Iraq was "free," which is difficult to determine because the violence in Iraq prevented most international observers from doing their jobs, it was held with nearly anonymous candidates and within the constraints imposed by the U.S. occupation. True self-determination in Iraq would probably result in a partition, a loose confederation of autonomous regions, or a combination of both. But those choices were not on the ballot. The Bush administration's nave and narrow vision of replicating a U.S.-style federation in a unified Iraq was the only game in town.

Yet experts on federalism are usually pessimistic about U.S.-style federations being successful in countries where strong ethnic or religious factions exist to pull a federated government apart. In Iraq, fighting is likely to ensue over control of the central government, because it has traditionally been used to oppress groups not in power. So genuine self-determination, most likely resulting in a weak or nonexistent central government, would actually be the most stable and sustainable in the long-term.

In the Islamic world, the U.S.-driven elections in Iraq are perceived as hypocritical in light of other U.S. actions. The United States has closed "unfriendly" newspapers in Iraq and is pressuring the Qatari government to shut down Al Jazeera, the most independent media outlet in the Middle East. According to the New York Times, the administration objects to Al Jazeera's coverage of the U.S. occupation of Iraq-especially reports on Iraqi civilian deaths in the U.S. assault on Falluja-and reporting on internal repression within the borders of U.S. Mideast allies, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In fact, the United States' closest friends in the Islamic world are the autocratic dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Pakistan-a nation that has become less democratic as the U.S.-Pakistani relationship has become closer.

Thus, the Iraqi elections are unlikely to have a ripple effect in a region that is already cynical about U.S. motives. The overly hyped plebiscite will probably do no more to stanch the downward spiral of violence in Iraq and the deepening U.S. quagmire there than the killing of Saddam Hussein's sons, the capture of the dictator, the nominal handover of power last summer, and the recapture of Falluja. In sequence, the Bush administration propaganda machine touted them as keys to ensuring a secure and prosperous Iraq, but none of those events made it happen. The Iraqi election will probably fare no better.

Ivan Eland is the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and author of the book, Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World.

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  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Iraq
Views: 3829

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Older Comments:
That's a good point, Yahya. You may not know this, but the way this sort of thing works (in the military and intelligence planning) is that various models are developed and considered. I'm sure that the US government has taken everything into consideration. The models probably look something like this:

Model One: Iraq holds open elections, has open markets, becomes a western-style secular nation-state a la Turkey. The new Iraq is tolerant and pluralistic. Horray. It worked (not bloody likely). We get cheap oil and someone in the area actually likes us.

Model Two: Open elections produce conservative secular govt that pays lip service to Islam; we bewail human rights abuses but at the same time accept the new govt because it is strategic and has important resources. This is a Cold-War era policy. You can see its remnants with US relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Algeria, Yemen, Tunesia and Moorocco.

Model Three: Constant civil war as a result of the power vacuum results in the creation of three countries: a) Kurdistan b)Shia Iraq (hey-we could call it Eastern Iraq) c)Sunni Iraq (Western Iraq)
And, of course, we'd talk about how Iraq was never a real country, but an artificial creation from out of the Ottoman Empire's collapse and dissemination during WWI (similar to Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia).

There might be other models as well. It is a chilling thing to think that the fate of millions has been consigned to some sort of board-room study. Yes, a terrible thing indeed.

continued on alternative view page

Excerpts from an Al-jazeera interview with Muhammad al-Duri - the last Iraqi ambassador to the UN.

Aljazeera (A) asked the former ambassador about the Iraqi elections and US agenda:

Muhammad al-Duri(MD):
It is part of a well-thought out US plan to implement its strategy in Iraq.
But one must be aware that last Sunday's elections establish sectarianism in Iraq. So many Iraqis entered the electoral process whether as candidates or voters on a sectarian and/or ethnic basis and motives. It is very dangerous and Iraqis should reject sectarianism.

A: But according to many Iraqi voters who talked to reporters on election day, they did so because they wanted to end the state of chaos in their country and restore security and stability. Isn't that the case?

MD: I do not agree with that concept, these elections are not designed to restore security and stability. The US administration has been desperate to legalise its occupation of Iraq, but it has failed so far. This mission has become an obsession for it; especially that the war on Iraq is still protested against by EU and Arab countries.
Votes for Kurdish separation were put next to parliamentary ballots

Therefore the US is trying to legitimise its existence in Iraq by bringing in an elected parliament and a government, which are fully loyal to it [US], and as such it will be able to conclude long-term agreements that secure its interests and influence in Iraq.

A: As a politician and a professor of politics, do you think that the Iraqi Sunni Arabs boycotting of the elections could put the legitimacy of the process at risk?

MD: It is wrong to say that Sunni Arabs boycotted the elections. It is an attempt to ridicule a national Iraqi position that opposes the division of the country, by labelling it as a sectarian position.

continued on alternative view page

Perhaps a belligerent and heavily armed Shi'ite Iraq to the north might conceivably lead to a crisis of confidence in seemingly moribund regimes to the south. Perhaps that sort of effect might conceivably be a "worst-case objective" for the Sunni insurgents in Iraq. I still think that Osama's offer to take command of fundamentalist Saudi forces in the north, following Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, was nothing short of inspired. Just the same, considering all of the oppressors for whom Iraqi Shi'ites have served as a trial, my thinking would be that genuine liberators would have little choice but to take the formerly oppressed at their word - and to trust in their Lord as well I would imagine.


Do Shiites want to Run The Whole Show?

What about the other almost half of the country? Or did the Shiites not heard of the Rand Corp study conducted on behalf of U.S. Defence Dept. - that advocates that Sunni, Shiite and Arab, non-Arab divides should be exploited to promote the US policy objectives in the Muslim world.

One of the primary objectives of the study was to "identify the key cleavages and fault lines among sectarian, ethnic, regional, and national lines and to assess how these cleavages generate challenges and opportunities for the United States."

My guess is that the ballots will not translate into power and the status quo will remain. That will be in line with the Rand study findings.
That may suit the Bushites but not Iraqis.

Can you be any more pesimistic about this?! Are you going to
contineu to dishonor the Iraqi police who have been killed and
other Iraqi officials and civilians who have lived to see an
electtion day come? Will you continue to dishonor the other
soldiers who died trying to make this election a reality? There
are no "buts" here. Count the number of Irraqi men and women
who stood in line, risking their lives, in order to vote. Look at
that. The election was a success and the Iraqi people and the
military deserve credit. Allawy is working to include all, Sunnis,
Shi'ites and Kurds to be part of the government.

There is a long history of U.S. involvement in the outcome of foreign elections.

The election in Iraq is as predictable as they were recently in Afghanistan. Most of the American handpicked self-perpetuating sycophants know about their victory even before the polls opened

Under these circumstances, the so-called new Iraqi government will be a fiasco. This is what the U.S. wants because it can stay in Iraqi for years, all the time claiming that a bunch of buffoons are running the show and they have to ensure stability.

Since the formation of an interim Iraqi government by the U.S., there has been not one policy statement, nor has there been one act of governing. No economic programs. No foreign affairs statements. No health care programs. No planning for the infrastructure. In other words, the stooges have just gone to their offices and meeting rooms and have done nothing.

Again, this just lengthens the time that the U.S. will stay in the country and run the show. And, it increases the number of deaths that will occur at the hands of the resistance. And under such circumstances, these elections have brought more chaos and division amongst Iraqis than unity and hope.


The Empire Has No Clothes indeed