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.