Is Iraq Finally Nearing Democratic Self-Governance?

Iraq's parliament has approved major elections for January, a tenuous victory for Iraqis and Americans

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Iraqi legislators have set a date for elections in 2010, ending a lengthy political crisis that threatened to derail the country's gradual steps toward stable democracy. Iraqi lawmakers had fought over how to distribute political representation to Kirkuk, an oil-rich city in Northern Iraq that underwent considerable demographic shifts since the 2003 invasion. The resolution is seen as a political victory for both Iraqis and Americans. It allows the timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops to progress. Elected representatives will select a prime minister, which means current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has a significant stake in the political dispute over the elections, now scheduled for Jan. 21, 2010.

  • Iraq Demonstrates Independent Governance  Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch praises Obama's handling of the Iraqi election. "The deal getting done is clearly good news -- and demonstrates that overall Obama's Iraqi strategy is going well even if it doesn't get much attention," he writes, dismissing the "technical" details that he says will be ironed out. "Those costs arguably pale beside the larger point that Iraqis largely reached this deal on their own, without intense American micro-management, under the shadow of a clear commitment to U.S. military withdrawal."
  • 'Genuine Arab Democracy'  The Washington Posts's Jackson Diehl compares the resolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall, applauding, "Painfully, haltingly but steadily, Iraq’s political leaders are building the Middle East’s first genuine Arab democracy," he writes. "Four years ago Iraqi Sunnis mostly boycotted the parliamentary elections; three years ago Sunni and Shiite were slaughtering each other in a virtual civil war. Now Iraq stands a good chance of forming a democratically elected government that will span sectarian divisions."
  • Obama's Missed Opportunity  Bush Administration official Kori Schake thinks President Obama is missing a big opportunity in an Iraqi ally. "This is a huge step forward in the democratization of Iraq; what a pity our own government sees it largely in terms of facilitating our withdrawal from the country," she writes. "Passage of the election law and the positive political dynamic that has Iraqis opting in to political wrangling as the means of addressing their disputes bodes very well for Iraq's future. What is less clear is whether the Obama administration understands the value of a long-term strategic partnership with a democratic Iraq that will be the lodestar of representative government in the Middle East. On the basis statements made by the president and Ambassador Hill, I believe they do not. Instead of playing the end game of our military presence in Iraq in ways that stabilize Iraq and make us a valuable long-term partner, the administration seems only to see the value of getting out of Iraq."
  • Could Cause Arab-Kurd Tension  Juan Cole explains why the nature of the resolution could be a source of tension between the two ethnic groups. "The Kurdistan Alliance scored a major victory insofar as the law agrees to use the 2009 voting rolls for the polls in Kirkuk Province. [...] Kurdistan wishes to incorporate into itself a fourth province, oil-rich Kirkuk, which has a mixed population of Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs. Turkmen and Arabs on the whole do not wish to become part of Kurdistan. [...] Arabs and Turkmen also charge that the current voting rolls are full of fraudulent names, as Kurds have attempted to pack the registration list," he writes. "Some members of parliament objected to a provision whereby displaced Iraqi outside their own original places of residence are not allowed to vote. Given the ethnic cleansing of so many Sunni Arabs of Baghdad and environs this provision probably hurts the Sunni Arab parties."
  • Much Could Still Go Wrong  Joost Hiltermann outlines in the New York Review of Books the many ways this could still fall apart. "Just as [top U.S. General in Iraq Raymond] Odierno will be pulling out his first combat brigades, starting in March, Iraq will be entering into a period of fractious wrangling over the formation of a new government. If Iraqi national forces fail to impose their control, an absence of political leadership could thus coincide with a collapse in security; if politicians and their allied militias resort to violence, the state, including its intelligence apparatus so critical for maintaining internal stability, could fracture along political, ethnic, and sectarian lines."
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