Wednesday, December 21, 2005

An Iraqi Iraq

Is the true meaning of these preliminary Iraqi election results unclear? You bet it is.

The trends as they appear so far: a majority of the members of the new Iraqi National Assembly have religious ties-- mostly Shiite (44%), but some Sunni (20%), too. Kurds comprise about 19% of the members, and Allawi's secular party has about half of that figure, although it's expected to pick up more as the expatriate votes are counted.

So, indeed, the majority of the assembly members will have religious ties, although there is no clear majority of one religious group over the whole.

But what does that mean in terms of policy?

In attempting to guess at the answer, I submit that these results are not too much of a surprise, nor are they something especially new. In fact, last year's election results were not all that dissimilar: 48% Shiite-affiliated; Kurds about half of that figure. The Sunnis, of course, had fewer than this time, since they had a lower participation rate. Now that the minority Sunnis have voted in greater numbers than before, it stands to reason they would be electing their own religious-based (rather than secular) leaders, just as a great many Shiites have. The secular parties did not do well in last year's elections, just as they did not do well in this year's.

It's easy to forget that, a year ago, many of the post-election cries in our MSM were, "Bush and the neocons are toast; religion triumphs in Iraq, and Bush's guys have fared very poorly." In fact, I myself had forgotten about those cries; I was reminded of them only by a fluke.

What was that fluke? Today, when I Googled "Iraq election results" to try to get some of the figures for the recent election, I found this article from the Washington Post, entitled, "Iraq Winners Allied with Iran are Opposite of US Vision." With a sinking heart, I read:

But, in one of the greatest ironies of the U.S. intervention, Iraqis instead went to the polls and elected a government with a strong religious base -- and very close ties to the Islamic republic next door...the top two winning parties -- which together won more than 70 percent of the vote and are expected to name Iraq's new prime minister and president -- are Iran's closest allies in Iraq.

Thousands of members of the United Iraqi Alliance, a Shiite-dominated slate that won almost half of the 8.5 million votes and will name the prime minister, spent decades in exile in Iran.


I actually read the entire article before I noticed something odd--the dateline: February 14, 2005. It was written nearly a year ago, and referred to the election of that earlier National Assembly--the one that hasn't done so very badly in drafting the recent constitution. (That's one of the beauties of the internet, by the way: "compare and contrast" is so easy to do it's almost unavoidable.)

So I take it all with the proverbial grain of salt. "Religiously affiliated" does not automatically mean extremist Iranian-style Ayatollahs or Afghan-style Taliban.

In fact, the Post article from a year ago was itself a bit confused on that score. After going on for quite some time about the close ties the new Shiite electees had to Iran (something that every one of the articles I've read on the most recent elections has reiterated, by the way), it makes the following about-face:

Adel Abdul Mahdi, who is a leading contender to be prime minister, reiterated yesterday that the new government does not want to emulate Iran. "We don't want either a Shiite government or an Islamic government," he said on CNN's "Late Edition." "Now we are working for a democratic government. This is our choice."

...U.S. and regional analysts agree that Iraq is not likely to become an Iranian surrogate. Iraq's Arabs and Iran's Persians have a long and rocky history. During the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, Iraq's Shiite troops did not defect to Iran.


Another problem with the current election--although certainly not an unexpected one, either--are accusations of election fraud by the Sunnis. Will this lead to another boycott by Sunnis of the process of democracy, and a refusal to compromise and become part of the negotiations--all the way up to the possibility of civil war? Perhaps. But remember that there's hardly an election these days that doesn't seem to come with these bitter accusations, including our own. So, once again, all we can say is: time will tell.

Any realist has known from the start that it was going to be a long, rocky, and uncertain road to any sort of viable Iraqi democracy, and this is apparently part of that journey.

As Glenn Reynolds writes, in a roundup of links on the election:

Democratization is a process, not an event. We'll soon see just how far along in the process we've progressed.

And Gregory Djerejian of Belgravia Dispatch seems to agree--quoting Thomas Friedman, whose columns are no longer freely accessible:

My own visits to Iraq have left me convinced that beneath all the tribalism, there is a sense of Iraqi citizenship and national identity eager to come out. But it will take more security, and many more Iraqi leaders animated by national reconciliation, for it to emerge in a sustained way.

Unlike many on the left, I'm not convinced that this will never happen and that all of this has been for naught. Unlike many on the right, I'm not convinced that it will inevitably happen if we just stay the course long enough. The only thing I am certain of is that in the wake of this election, Iraq will be what Iraqis make of it - and the next six months will tell us a lot. I remain guardedly hopeful.


I found some of the comments at Iraq the Model to be of interest, too:

One commenter wrote:

Me against my brother; me and my brother against my cousin; me, my brother and my cousin against the stranger.

Do the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish Sunni see each other as cousins? How do they view the Iranians, who are not Arab? Not Iraqi?

Maybe, even with the "discouraging" election results, these groups will band together to defend against outside pressures. Maybe that's what will stop the "inevitable" civil war.

There are probably too many factors involved to predict anything accurately - maybe the best thing to do for the present time is to just sit back and watch as things unfold.


And then there's this:

I'm not surprised at all that a society, having been crushed beneath the heel of a secular government for thirty years, takes its first chance in a democracy to overcompensate with a religious response.

Please keep in mind that Khomeni replaced the Shah, not through democracy, but by revolt. Iraq is a much more diverse nation that is going to look very strange to people for a while.

There is nothing to say that religious leaders can't operate successfully in a democratic process. This will no more split the nation into quadrants any more than any other election has in the past.

It is going to be okay. It was obvious that this government, for starters, was going to skew more toward the religious end. Nevertheless, it is a parliament, and is bound to have factions within the religious wing that can be allied with on certain issues.

Just because there are a lot of religious representatives doesn't mean they all think alike!


And I'll leave this comment as the final word:

As far as being a sister country to Iran, most of you are missing the boat.
Sistani is the largest most, influential Shia leader in Iraq (who happens to be Iranian) but he is not a fan of the Iranian political system. A matter of fact, he is a fan of democracy.

No, you will not see a US style democracy in Iraq but neither will you see an Iranian style theocracy.

Iraq will be uniquely Iraqi and will probably require decades to evolve.

20 Comments:

At 12:21 AM, December 22, 2005, Anonymous Frank Martin said...

Last I checked, the US Congress is also made up primarily of people affiliated with two Christian Sects; the "Protestant" and "Catholic" sects which have been at war with each other in various places around the world for about 500 years. Yet despite the divisions in their beliefs and long history of fighting each other, they still manange to run a pretty good government.

Why does everyone assume that the Shia and Sunni cant work together in Iraq?

 
At 1:06 AM, December 22, 2005, Blogger chuck said...

If you enjoy the news for the little tidbits and oddities, then you can do just fine reading old papers. Not to say that new things don't show up occasionally, they just don't show up as often as one might think.

Older magazine articles, on the other hand, seem to me to be of better quality than newer ones. I find articles from 1915, say, to be written to a higher standard. Maybe the audience was expected to be better educated.

 
At 1:53 AM, December 22, 2005, Blogger Darrell said...

I am in the wait and see camp. Two things are working against us.
1. They aren't like us, so most of our opinions are pretty worthless when viewed through the prism of what we would do.
2. They aren't like us, since we cant really relate, the first knee jerk is to expect the worst.
I actually have some confidence it will work out ok. A little bumpy but it will.
I have no doubt that the campaign slogans will sober a bit when they actaully take thier seat and realize the awesome responsibility at hand.
Even though I tune out and reject most of what the media says it does kind of condition you to expect the worst with the constant never ending drumbeat of negativity.
Its almost like you have to mentally fight it.
I will keep watching Omar and Mohammed, thier anxiety kind of raised the hair on my neck but I think we all need to realize what a big deal this is for them, this is it basically.
This is what they have suffered for, for so long. I am sure they are on pins and needles and I just dont think we can relate.
I am biased though, I honestly want them to succeed, myself and my family made some sacrifices for their freedom.
CWO3

 
At 3:27 AM, December 22, 2005, Blogger SteveR said...

Voting by "religious bloc" is nothing new, even in the US.

My tribe, American Jews, tends to vote overwhelmingly for one particular side on most issues.

Somehow, I don't see that as anti-democratic (dumb, maybe, but not anti-democratic.)

Your point regarding the WaPo article from last February is very revealing. I'm beginning to think that it would be good to institute a "shut up for 6 months" rule - have reporters write their stories "as it happens", but lock them in a safe for 6 months - then write the story again with the benefit of some perspective.

Katrina/FEMA, Valerie Plame, etc would have all benefitted from this approach.

Of course, it's just a thought experiment

 
At 5:11 AM, December 22, 2005, Blogger camojack said...

Does their constitution provide for religious freedom?

 
At 9:26 AM, December 22, 2005, Blogger neo-neocon said...

camojack: To answer your question about religious freedom, see this:

The Iraqi constitution...contains two "diametrically opposing views" on religious liberty that will have to be worked out in the future. One part of the constitution, he said, supports rule by Islamic law, while another part guarantees religious freedom..."For all its faults, the draft Iraqi constitution makes religious liberty a very real possibility in the midst of the Islamic world."

Also, from this:

So, there is ambiguity.

Is Iraq an Islamic country? Yes. Will Islam be the only source of law? No, but it will be "a fundamental" source. What does that mean? The Iraqis haven't decided.

Is there religious freedom? The proposed constitution says, "Iraqis are free to abide in their personal lives according to their religion, sects, beliefs or choice." But it also says, "This should be organized by law."

 
At 10:07 AM, December 22, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Sunni complaint about the vote only proves the power of Television. They have been watching the whiners (aka democrats) and think that there is no way they can lose an election. If they lose, someone cheated, never mind the hundreds of thousands of dead people that voted for them. I guess like the U.S. they think people will feel sorry for them, but will find that the only votes they really get are from sorry people. There is a difference.

 
At 11:52 AM, December 22, 2005, Blogger Tom Grey said...

I have great sadness that, back two years under Bremer, the various Iraqi cities didn't have municipal elections for a local mayor who would also be responsible for security and reconstruction -- with the US/coalition (Brits in Basra) guaranteeing free speech.

Political horse trading is a skill that has to be learned by the new Iraqi politicians, who are about to learn it's usually easier to say "no", than to get others to say "yes" -- but too much "no" means they don't get re-elected.

It's really great that the same MSM defeatism was around after the Feb. elections.

I think it will be a bit worse this time. The religious folk will not agree on some important things, but prolly WILL agree on: less pornography, less promiscuity, less women's lib. I like the first two, but not so happy about the last.

I had a flash this morning about a coming "velvet Iraqi divorce", with the Shia (Sheat) leaving Baghdad, and the Kurds also declaring independence -- and the US not letting the Sunnis fight to save their "union". Slovakia left the Czechs; South Sudan, in 6 years (now 5), will prolly leave Sudan.

But the most important democratic freedoms are: free speech (press) and free religion. The biggest issue will be toleration for minority religions.

 
At 1:28 PM, December 22, 2005, Anonymous m.g. said...

This 1994 Middle East Quarterly article looks interesting in light of this discussion:
Islam's Democratic Essence.

 
At 2:43 PM, December 22, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The degree to which George Bush makes his piety public is a political decision (it clearly sways public opinion, not to mention votes). Anybody's who's comfortable with that piety should be ok with Iraqis choosing religious leaders. Probably stating the obvious here, but the alternative is a tad hypocrital.

 
At 3:30 PM, December 22, 2005, Anonymous Tony said...

This is the first and probably the last time I will visiting this site. I would just like to say that it is so heartening to know that the USA likes democracy so much that it will spend Billions of dollars and thousands of its own lives to impliment and defend it in such a far off country like Iraq. It was a little late on the scene in the 1940s and look at what it did in Chile in 1972. Hey I've been wrong before; I said that I doubted that Iraq had enough WMDs to be a threat and I also said when Bush made his "End of hositilies speech" that I believed more people would be killed. I'm just sitting here in Australia's island state of Tasmania hoping that someone might "give peace a chance" and wondering when the people in the "Democratic" world will realise how manipulated they are. Keep up your neo-con ideas but someday you may realise that you as part of the USA cannot keep hating over September 11.

 
At 8:59 PM, December 22, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Addressed to parts of the great majority of posts in this thread.

What Friedman misses is that tribalism and the honor code were the very things that united and strenghtened America in our divisive and troublesome history. And it will do the same thing to Iraq, so long as they do not fragment for lack of support.

As for Sistani, people really have to remember that Islam has a lot of factions. Among them are Sunnis, Shias, and Sufis. Among others I can't name at the moment. The Sufis are very tolerant, and so are the Shia, and neither are like the radical brand of Shia that Khomeni represents. Nor is the radical fundamentalist brand of Sunnism that Osama represents, a guilty sentence against the majority of Sunnis in Saudi Arabia or Iraq.

I seriously find it amusing that the "experts in diplomacy" fail to grasp the fundamental basics someone like me, a Jacksonian, grasps so easily and obviously.

To accrue strength in unity, one must have a commonality, a grass roots thing reaching back into time immemorial. For the Japanese, it is Shintoism, a brand of ancestor worship and duty. For the US, it is the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. For Iraq, it is their religion and their tribal method of governance.

That is what Bush means when he says their democracy will be "different". Their strengths are not ours, anymore than our strengths are the Polish's or the Jew's.


Why does everyone assume that the Shia and Sunni cant work together in Iraq?


It is convenient and consistent with their pessimism and hopes.

I find articles from 1915, say, to be written to a higher standard. Maybe the audience was expected to be better educated.

The media did dumb their stories down, because they thought it would gain a wider readership. This is representative of how many journalists have MBA diplomas.

2. They aren't like us, since we cant really relate, the first knee jerk is to expect the worst.

That is where most people are wrong, they are like us. In all the things that matter. But because it requires a calculated education on the nature of America and an education in the culture of the Middle East, finding the points of congruence is very hard and rare.

I myself do not know enough about Iraqi culture to analyze the similarities. But It can be done, say, with Japan. And they are as different a culture to ours as any. The Japanese treats their ancestors and their superiors, much as we treat the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. With respect, with reverence, and anything we do is tied directly to what has gone before. Our duty, to the Constitution, is clear. Japan's duty to the Emperor previously, and to their parents now, are obviously the same things.

Its almost like you have to mentally fight it.

It's a psychological battle you wage, against the morale killing propaganda of the media. In a war, propaganda and the psychology of the enemy are two of the most important elements to victory.

My tribe, American Jews, tends to vote overwhelmingly for one particular side on most issues.

Kuwaitt is governed by a ruling tribe as their Prime Minister. Iraq is governed locally by Sheiks and tribes with militias.

Yet why do Americans, if we are so different from Iraqis, also think in terms of "tribes" and use that archaic terminology?

Perhaps humans are not so much different from other humans as the Democrats wish us to believe.

The Sunni complaint about the vote only proves the power of Television. They have been watching the whiners (aka democrats) and think that there is no way they can lose an election.

The Taliban did the same thing in Afghanistan, and so did the opposition in Afghanistan decry fake election results.

Make no mistake, Democratic propaganda just feeds the ego of our enemies. But I guess they aren't worried about that part.

But the most important democratic freedoms are: free speech (press) and free religion.

Unlike Jeffersonians, Jacksonians like me believe that the msot important democratic freedom is the 2nd Ammendment in the Bill of Rights, not the First.

And so long as Iraq has an AK-47 in every household, and they maintain security and American support, then that crucial liberty may be maintained and used as the foundation for all the others.

The raw material is definitely there. It just has to be shaped.

Keep up your neo-con ideas but someday you may realise that you as part of the USA cannot keep hating over September 11.

It is a great psychological wound the world has, when free countries elicit nothing but depression and hopeless in people like Tony.

But that is why ultimate power rests in the US's hands, and not the world's.

He associates hate of 9/11 with I would just like to say that it is so heartening to know that the USA likes democracy so much that it will spend Billions of dollars and thousands of its own lives to impliment and defend it in such a far off country like Iraq.

Cognitive dissonance, as anyone can clearly see.

The same political philosophy that advocated war after 9/11 is the same political philosophy that provides the man power and the will to fight in Iraq.

That philosophy is called Jacksonianism. And one of the few specific ways to win over that school of thought, is a surprise attack that kills Americans.

Re-reading Meade's article on it, really helps make America's foreign policy a consistent creature in historical terms.

 
At 10:00 PM, December 22, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I just thought of this, but does anyone seriously believe that if Alawi had won the PM seat, that the same media Neo links to, isn't going to be talking about how worrisome it is to have a prior Baathist party member become the Prime Minister of a country Bush has said he liberated to bring freedom to?

How dumb do they think I am anyways...

 
At 3:37 AM, December 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Among them are Sunnis, Shias, and Sufis. Among others I can't name at the moment.

I seriously find it amusing that the "experts in diplomacy" fail to grasp the fundamental basics someone like me, a Jacksonian, grasps so easily and obviously.

To accrue strength in unity, one must have a commonality, a grass roots thing reaching back into time immemorial.

Perhaps humans are not so much different from other humans as the Democrats wish us to believe.

And so long as Iraq has an AK-47 in every household, and they maintain security and American support, then that crucial liberty may be maintained and used as the foundation for all the others.

 
At 3:55 AM, December 23, 2005, Blogger Judith said...

You went into the same ITM comment threads I did. :-)

here.

Then I got pissed.

 
At 4:07 AM, December 23, 2005, Blogger Judith said...

"I have great sadness that, back two years under Bremer, the various Iraqi cities didn't have municipal elections for a local mayor who would also be responsible for security and reconstruction -- with the US/coalition (Brits in Basra) guaranteeing free speech."

They did do that. Lots of municipalities got to try out democracy on a local level. i don't have links right now but I know we did that.

 
At 1:48 PM, December 23, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Lots of municipalities already had local governance. Saddam didn't rule through infrastructure, as we could easily tell by the condition of the roads compared to his gold plated toilet infested palaces.

Instead Saddam ruled through local proxies, the power of the tribes, and criminal networks. Like one big mafia family, with connections and Secret Police everywhere.

Tribes, responsible for their families and nothing else in their view, cut a deal. So did a lot of criminals, to get in on the action.

Releasing all those criminals from jail might even have been a deal to the tribes of the criminals, to get support for his jihad while Bush delayed American security at the UN.

But I do know that Sheiks were certainly in power and present before the overthrow of Saddam.

Trying to "manage" the local governmance, however, probably smacked too much of American Imperialism for Bush and Bremer to tolerate. So they probably tried to avoid that part as much as possible.

A good patchup solution would have been obvious of course. Tell the Sheiks of the most violent regions to step down or be executed, replace them with American commanders, and then make that American commander responsible for the civilian infrastructure and military security.

That would have been quite an effective strategy, a bunch of warlords loyal to America and the best we have. That would have increased respect for America, gained cooperation from Sunnis and any number of other benefits early on.

Bush wanted to do it the hard way, shrugs, he is the CinC. His decision is ultimate.

There are stories about military sergeants nominated as Sheiks.

Under the tribal system, we could have easily reinforced it not by violating local customs, but by adapting to and assimilating them.

What American troops do when they go into villages, for reconstruction, and medical aid, is no different than what a Sheik does. And we actually had the military power and money to back up our promises.

Trying to work with "local corrupt" potentates that thought Saddam was a day away from getting back into power... took quite a bit of time.

While it is true that the Sword is less flexible than the Pen, it is also true that with enough skill you can use a Sword to shave, cut your hair, ambutate a limb, execute a criminal, cut wood, and write with. Not well, of course, but still. Well enough until real democracy could take hold.

 
At 6:55 PM, December 23, 2005, Blogger Epaminondas said...

I don't see the big upset if there is a vote split as advertised.

Don't we have a 'black' constituency? Latino? Jewish? or even tribes by advocacy and interest..NRA, AFL-CIO

To make a democracy work (Japan excepted), unpleasant compromises of both ideology and practicality are required of various highly dissimilar groups.

We can't do this for the Iraqis.

They will rise to this, or sink to something else and solve it ( a la articles of confederation period) or they won't, or they will become three nations and then the Sunnis WILL be totally screwed.

As usual the critical progressives and their overseas think alikes demonstrate the patience of 3 year olds.

 
At 1:13 PM, December 24, 2005, Blogger Eric said...

Neo neocon,

Just for poop and smiles, it'd be neat if you'd take a more psychological look at this episode, only because it seems like hearts and minds will control the next step.

This is a tough time for analysts because we are at a crossroads, and it's not up to us. We don't have control here. It's up to the Iraqis, and we hope that will all the ups and downs, we've done enough.

My fear is the Sadrists. In the US, we've marginalized extremist groups like the KKK in the political process. The Sadrists have been billed as rejectionist of this democracy-building project. It seems that the Sadrists have made a strong showing in this election. What does that mean?

Eric

 
At 7:14 PM, December 27, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Unfortunately for Bush, he really needs to tell America it is up to us. Whatever the Iraqis may gain, America will cause them to lose if we don't act as honest brokers and break up the fighting as any adult would when 2 3 year olds start grappling.

Too many Americans believe America has to step back and let nature take its course. That is both ignorant and wrong. Letting "nature" take its course is what we did to Cuba, and it is still around, in its natural pristone condition.

Iraq, in terms of US power, is an unnatural creation of the British Empire and a sustained unnatural creation through force of history, nationality, and American iron will.

The US is the only thing keeping Iraq together. We are the only one able to convince the Kurds to give reunification a chance, to give nationalism a chance. We are the only ones that can convince the Sunnis that they won't be purged later on. We are the only ones that can convince the Shia to allow Sunnis into the government and back into power because the Shia knows that any Sunni coup will be defeated by us.

The United States holds too much power and too much responsibility for any policy maker, for any citizen, and for any soldier to say "it is up to the Iraqis now, we'll just step back and let them do the rest".

On that path lies disaster and dishonor.

What does that mean?


It means the British need to crack down on the Shia corruption and carry their damn weight in the Coalition. We have allies so that we do the heavy lifting, and everything else gets neglected... I don't think so.

Nobody's asking the British to charge into cities, take control, and hunt down terroists with their conventional forces. What we do ask is that they make sure we don't lose Basra while we gain Fallujah, Mosul, and Baghdad.

 

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