Tuesday, March 2

Iraqi Elections: Threats and Limitations,

I recently wrote a piece on IslamOnline.net about the upcoming Iraqi elections; threats to its transparency and results. You can read it here.

Update: Since IslamOnline.net has stopped, this is the full text of the article
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The Iraqi Elections: Democracy Under Threat

By Majed Jarrar


Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, American soldiers have been portrayed as fighting under the flag of democracy. Just how successful has the establishment of an imported system of government and values been? The upcoming elections should give a good indication.
The elections are scheduled to take place on March 7th, 2010. There are around 6000 candidates forming over 600 political parties. Most parties have formed coalitions, of which some of the most influential are: the State of Law Coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance and the Iraqiyya List. The current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who assumed office in 2006, is at the head of the Rule of Law coalition. The Iraqi National Alliance is led by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI – formerly Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SCIRI) and the Sadrists (followers of Muqtada al-Sadr). The Iraqiyya List is led by several Shia, Sunni, Kurd and Christian Iraqis, who identify themselves as secular nationalists, including Ayad Allawi, who served as Iraq’s interim Prime Minister from 2004 until 2005, Saleh Muhamed al-Mutlaq; head of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue and the current Vice President of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashimi.
Iraq is now facing several serious threats to the elections: threats which may prevent them from proceeding, or prevent the results from being accepted as legitimate. Moreover, should the elections proceed successfully, there are further threats to a peaceful transition of government. Recently there have been bursts of violence which could indicate a major escalation in the near future. For example there have been explosions in Nineveh since mid-January which targeted Christians and other minorities. There have also been increasingly frequent car bombs and assassinations in Baghdad, as well as in Kerbala where pilgrims are often targeted. Much of the violence is aimed at increasing sectarian divisions which existed only due to American incitement of various groups.
Creating a culture of sectarianism has been part of the American agenda in Iraq (as well as other countries) since well before the 2003 invasion, and the first elections were organized in such a way as to continue this trend. In 2005 almost all of the elected seats were divided among three coalitions of Sunni, Shia and Kurd, although the political spectrum within each of these coalitions was vast. Inevitably, each coalition eventually fragmented and was dissolved. This year’s elections appear to be organized differently, and we see more mixing of sectarian-based identities in candidates who are united by their political position.
While the American interests have shifted from creating sectarianism to now dismantling it, Iran continues to favor sectarian divisions. Several significant political parties are backed by Iran or are pro-Iranian, and all such parties have been working closely with the US since 2003 due to their shared vision of a sectarian-divided Iraq. Currently they have grown stronger and have less of a need for this alliance, and as such are less concerned with running the elections according to American interests. Add to this, Americans shifted their interest to drop sectarianism from their Iraq agenda. Since Iranian-backed parties are likely to find loyal followers in the Shiites of Iraq, it is in their best interest that the elections continue to be organized by sects.
Furthermore, as mentioned above there are threats to the legitimacy of the elections. The main problems are the lack of transparency and a lack of inclusiveness. For a successful and transparent election process to be carried out, more international monitors are needed. This year the US is not sending any monitors, and while there will be a few hundred from other countries, most of them will be there only for the actual event itself, rather than the process which starts over 60 days prior to voting. The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) is seen by many Iraqis as being partial and controlled by the current ruling parties. This may lead to post-election unrest (as seen recently in Iran) with the opposition parties claiming that the elections results were fraudulent. The lack of inclusiveness and openness has come about since the current ruling parties have banned 511 opposition candidates from running in the elections. This ban, which is largely the result of Iranian pressure, completely undermines the legitimacy of the elections. Those who have been banned from running were not chosen due to their sectarian identity (in fact more Shiites have been banned than Sunni or Kurdish candidates) but rather it had to do with their national, anti-American, anti-Iranian political stance.
If, despite all of this, Iraq managed to hold the elections on time and ensure they were inclusive and transparent – which is becoming more impossible every day – this would not be the end of the obstacles in the way of democracy. To ensure a peaceful transition of authority, the country must have well established and strong governmental institutions. However the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are infiltrated by militias and controlled by the current pro-Iranian ruling parties. Also, the judicial branch of the government is so weak that it lost its credibility, even among the Iraqi people, not to mention the country’s infrastructure and basic services which are still crippled from years of sanctions and war; electricity, water, education and security to mention a few. All of this makes the country susceptible to civil unrest, and vulnerable to a possible military coup.
If the American agenda in invading Iraq seven years ago truly was to bring democracy to the country, it can surely be seen as a failed mission. The war has brought death, destruction and an unstable system of government built on foreign agenda. The current plans to withdraw American troops are welcome. The US must follow through by withdrawing combat forces to less than fifty thousand by August 2010, and closing all bases by the end of next year. The only right thing to do is step aside and let the very capable Iraqis themselves pick up the broken pieces of what once was their country and put it back together again.


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