The Iraqi parliamentary election on March 7 is an important one for both Iraq and the U.S., as it figures prominently in America's plans for withdrawal. One roadblock came when de-Baathification hardliners attempted to ban many Sunnis from the elections--this was fortunately prevented by skillful international diplomacy. The election now has the potential to be a crucial stepping stone on the road to peace, prosperity, and independence. But could the fragile progress of the past months unravel at the last minute? Here are some of the best- and worst-case scenarios experts see in the tea leaves:
- De-Baathification Could Harm the Economy Reidar Visser, Iraq history expert at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, thinks the push towards de-Baathification "has the hallmarks of sophisticated political bullying, and creates a quandary for the nationalist and secularist forces that are being targeted." Ignoring the hardliners gets them painted as passive, but complying creates a "climate of fear where few civil servants may feel safe about their positions." This puts at risk the very "competent professionals that are vital to maintaining decent output levels in Iraq's struggling oil industry."
- De-Baathification Could Destroy the Government James Denselow in The Guardian is also worried about the de-Baathification campaign. "Such short-term political positioning could have devastating consequences if large sections of the Sunni community boycott the election or find themselves without an effective role in the next governing coalition. This would fatally undermine the legitimacy of the next government and could lead to renewed large-scale fighting along sectarian fault lines."
- Best-Case Scenario is Very Good At The Washington Post, Ad Melkert, head of the UN mission in Baghdad, writes that "after three decades of wars, sanctions and dictatorship, the shape of a new era is visible from where I sit." World Politics Review's Thomas Barnett likewise points out that "this will be the first [election since the invasion] truly conducted under stable conditions, even if the peace is decidedly fragile ... If expectations of a 70 percent turnout hold and Iraq's Sunnis are not perceived as having withheld their participation (as in 2005), this election will constitute the biggest victory yet for democracy in the Middle East."
- Progress or Chaos Wamith Al-Kassab, an Iraqi activist in Baghdad, cites a number of political sticking points. "If Iraq really survive[s] this extremely difficult year, I am extremely optimistic about the future," he says. "But there is a real risk to the contrary, that things will unravel completely." Among other factors, faith remains a powerful trump card for influencing elections.
- A Choice: America or Iran Writing in the Arabic-language Kitabat, an Iraqi publication, Madah Al-Qadah outlines the choice many feel Iraqi voters have in front of them (James Jacobson translates). Two regional alliances appear to be developing: that of "Iran, Syria, South Lebanon and Hamas" and that of "Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan under American auspices." By choosing a government that prefers the former, Iraqis incur the wrath of the latter--and vice versa.