The Iraqification of Iraq

IraqYou know, apart from trifling matters such as suicide bombers, acute shortages, a plummeting U.S. dollar, and lousy troop morale, I thought the Iraq occupation/handover was going swimmingly. We had a date certain to hold elections and, after, the U.S. could make concrete plans to withdraw, and Iraqis could go about charting their own course.

Then I read this piece in the Los Angeles Times and despaired:

Iraq’s most prominent Sunni Muslim religious party announced Monday that it was withdrawing from next month’s parliamentary elections, saying that violence remains too grave to conduct the vote.  . . .

The [Iraqi Islamic Party] party said . . . that it remained committed to the electoral process but that violence across the Sunni heartland north and west of Baghdad "that every day moves from bad to worse" made it necessary to delay the January 30 vote for as long as six months.

The party’s leader insisted that this was "not a boycott" and pleaded for "extra time" for the insurgent-torn Sunni territory to get ready to enter a national election. There are other Sunni political parties, but this should be considered a major setback.

"Major" because the U.S. wants as much Sunni participation come January 30 as possible. The Bush administration has gone so far as to "[voice] support for a quota system to guarantee Sunni politicians seats in the new national assembly."

The article quotes an unnamed official as saying that the Sunni politicians "do have a legitimate beef," which wins my vote for understatement of the week. As Baghdad University political science professor Jaber Habib said of attempts to politick in Al Anbar and Ninevah, "[The] candidates can’t reveal their names or they might be killed. How can they campaign like that?"

Iraq optimists like Newsweek‘s Fareed Zakaria had been banking on a decent Sunni turnout in this election, and less Sunni-based terrorism after, but the odds at this point are not good.

Don’t tell that to a lot of ordinary Iraqis who are taking the Han Solo approach ("never tell me the odds") to the future of their country. For a piece earlier this week, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt interviewed A. Heather Coyne, of the U.S. Institute for Peace, to tell of the struggles of Iraqis to rebuild civil institutions that Saddam Hussein had crushed or kept from forming. Here’s the most moving bit:

One local leader called the day after being shot three times — to ask whether the institute had accepted the people he had recommended to take part in a seminar. Another, whose house was torched, got in touch to make sure Coyne had his new telephone number.

As for what kind of a government is likely to come from all of this, we can only guess. Because the U.S. refused to go the Japan route and write a new Iraq constitution, the drafting of that document is still up in the air and subject to a popular vote in 2006, if things go to plan.

At this point it looks likely that some sort of Islamic democracy will emerge — though just how Islamic or how democratic are questions to be wrestled with (and blogged about) at a later date.

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  • Paul Barnes

    Mr. Lott,

    I would like to state that I believe this is your best post in this blog that I have read. I can only imagine that it will only get better from now on.

  • Richard

    With all due respect to those in America who want to install Jeffersonian style democracies everywhere else in the world, let’s quit kidding outselves. We may think we want it for everyone else on the planet but given that human nature is what it is, the widely varying degrees of development in the different societies and cultures around the world and all of the other competing interests out there, who in their right mind really believes what we have in this country can or necessarily should be repeated any place, any time and under any circumstance we deem it appropriate. Don’t get me wrong, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy who needed to be gotten rid of, but the US can’t keep running around the world shoving representative democracy down everyone else’s throat at the point of a gun. By doing so we make ourselves out to be just as bad as any other colonial power that’s ever existed on the planet. Do we have any more right to engage in this than the Soviets did in the last century?

    If the Bush Administration thinks that what they have done in Iraq is correct, when do they plan to invade North Korea, China, Iran, and a lot of other places in the world ruled by dictators and thugs, irrespective of whatever thier political or religious leanings are. George Bush campaigned the first time around on NOT engaging in nation building and look at what he has done. Our engagement in Iraq is an ill conceived, mis-managed mess with a less than certain outcome. What are they going to say if Iraq ends up with a government similar to the one that has been running things in Iran since the 70s, after a “fair” election has been held? Are we going to nullify it and tell them we aren’t pleased with the outcome and to do it again and again until they get it right?

    I’m a Viet Nam vet and every day of this “war” makes me think it’s nothing but more of the same kind of stuff that got almost 60 thousand Americans killed in another misguided military adventure. We didn’t learn too much from that one either, maybe if George Bush had served a tour in country he’d have thought twice about this exercise in hubris. Making the world a safer place to live, oh excuse me, America a safer place to live.

  • Stephen A.

    Did I miss the religion in this post? Oh, yeah. I suppose mentioning “Sunni” qualifies as a religious posting.

    Anyway, this is kind of blown out of proportion, since it was reported that the Sunni party in question is “pulling out” simply to jockey for more concessions. It’s a bit like haggling in a Morroccan market. “No” doesn’t necessarily mean “No – never!” (The hint here is how the party parsed their words when they pulled out – it’s not a boycott, hence, it’s not permanent. Therefore, it’s a ploy for more concessions so they don’t end up shut out of the government.)

    The better question, perhaps, is why aren’t the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia more supportive of the elections, and if they have any sway with this particular party, are they putting some pressure on them to remain part of the election process?

  • Harris

    Let me second Stephan’s concern: I missed the religious angle here. Sure I would like to discuss Iraq, but really there are a lot of places for that. What we miss — what Get Religion can provide — are the stories and insights about what happens where religion shows up in public.

    Keep it up. Don’t lose focus.

  • Jeremy Lott


    Thank you for the kind words.

    Stephen, Harris,

    Sigh. What part of “stay tuned” is so hard to understand?

    I’m working up to something people. Have a little faith.


  • Will S.

    You want an example of an Islamic democracy in action? Iran. In Iran, the people vote in more-or-less free elections, and have options – some candidates are known to be “moderates” and some are known to be “hard-liners”, and people distinguish between them and vote their preferences. It is an Islamic state, true; all the parties must at least in principle agree with the goals of the revolution, and parties that don’t, e.g., commies, are duly banned.

    Contrast this to America’s ally, Saudi Arabia. No democracy there – and not exactly tons of pro-American sentiment, either, apart from some government officials and some businesses…

    America has no business meddling in the affairs of parts of the world it doesn’t understand, and is bound to only make things worse.

    Wait – this is supposed to be a religion blog, right? Well, if you don’t stray off topic, neither will your readers…

  • Phil Blackburn

    Is Iran really an “example of Islamic democracy in action”? There is more to a democracy than parliamentary elections – particularly elections from which hundreds of reformist candidates were banned. For the four years before last February’s election Iran had a reformist president and a reformist majority in parliament, yet reform was blocked by a ‘Council of Guardians’, dominated by religious and political conservatives, and reformists were harassed, arrested and eventually banned from standing for parliament, by the hard-line religious judiciary.

    This is partly why an Iraqi constitution and religious questions are closely bound together. The other part is that the Shia make up a majority in Iraq, but with significant Sunni and Christian minorities. The constitution is likely therefore to strongly impact whether Iraq ends up politically and socially dominated by one religious faction, or whether there will be an opportunity for religious pluralism.

  • Jeremy Lott

    >Wait – this is supposed to be a religion blog, right? >Well, if you don’t stray off topic, neither will your >readers…

    Do you actually READ the comments threads?

  • Stephen A.

    Will S: You make a good point. Iran seems to be becoming a democracy. However, I don’t think it’s there yet when religious leaders can ban whole swaths of candidates from standing for election for being “too western” in their outlook.

    Yet, some people don’t give Iran enough credit for how far they’ve come, and I wish we would find common ground with them as they emerge into democracy. The people there want it, even if many of their leaders fear it.