Today’s elections in Iraq could determine how much longer our troops stay in Iraq. It is possible — likely, I suspect — that the government formed today will pressure us to evacuate, “victory” be damned.
Three men, all of them Shia, are seen as a possible prime minister: Adel Abdel-Mahdi, of the main Shia religious faction, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI); Iyad Allawi, a former London exile who served as Iraq’s first interim prime minister last year; and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the current prime minister and head of the religious Daawa party.
One of the first tasks for the new government, which will rule for four years, will be to agree with US and British officials the procedure for a gradual hand-over of power to Iraqi forces.
There are signs that the Shia coalition that presently dominates Iraq could break up over the issue. SCIRI and Dawa want the US presence to continue for some time but they have now formed alliances with Moqtada al-Sadr, the militant cleric whose followers have fought with US and British troops and who demands the immediate departure of the “occupiers”.
Dexter Filkins writes in the New York Times that the votes will probably split evenly between secular and religious Shiites:
The cleric-led Shiite coalition is expected to get the largest number of votes but to fall short of capturing enough seats to enable Adel Abdul Mahdi, the group’s probable nominee for prime minister, to form a government. The Shiite coalition won a slim majority in the January elections, choosing Ibrahim Jafaari as prime minister, but the expected participation of the Sunni Arabs makes it unlikely that the Shiite bloc will capture a majority this time.
The LA Times probably reflects the thinking of a lot of Americans in hoping that these elections are a milestone on the way to withdrawing US troops from Iraq. I cannot imagine why anyone thinks that. The Iraqi “government” is a failed state. Virtually no order it gives has any likelihood of being implemented. It has no army to speak of and cannot control the country. Its parliamentarians are attacked and sometimes killed with impunity. Its oil pipelines are routinely bombed, depriving it of desperately needed income. It faces a powerful guerrilla movement that is wholly uninterested in the results of elections and just wants to overthrow the new order. Elections are unlikely to change any of this.
The only way in which these elections may lead to a US withdrawal is that they will ensconce parliamentarians who want the US out on a short timetable. Virtually all the Sunnis who come in will push for that result (which is why the US Right is silly to be all agog about Fallujans voting), and so with the members of the Sadr Movement, now a key component of the Shiite religious United Iraqi Alliance. That is, these elections lead to a US withdrawal on terms unfavorable to the Bush administration. Nor is there much hope that a parliament that kicked the US out could turn around and restore order in the country.
Thomas Oliphant writes in today’s Boston Globe about President Bush’s recent “cycle of orations” on Iraq:
Bush loved to trumpet the fact that elections were about to be held and then will trumpet the fact that they were indeed held and people voted. But his unwillingness to discuss the elections in depth undercuts the message he is attempting to convey.
In this case, what was missing from Bush’s final oration yesterday was even a minimally broad tour of these elections. He could have at least tried to explain that because these are parliamentary elections involving multiple slates of candidates, it is possible, indeed likely, that we will not understand what happened because Iraq is so bitterly divided.
He could have urged calm and caution as Iraqis of multiple political persuasions try to sort through the tea leaves in search of some kind of majority that has a chance of actually governing the country. He could have emphasized the need for caution even more by explaining that this mystifying process could take weeks if not months and may at times become violent.
Instead, his orations at an end, he will pack up and hide for most of the next three weeks at Camp David and in Texas while others try to make sense of what is likely to be one of the messiest elections ever.
This is Bush’s pattern: To take credit for an “accomplishment” (that may not have been accomplished yet) and then leave the work to others. Oliphant continues,
The reason for the mess, by the way, involves the last so-called ”milestone” that was promoted and then trumpeted by Bush — the elections 11 months ago for an interim government and the October referendum on the constitution that this government produced.
The baloney from our government and president celebrated democracy and consensus across the regions and sects. The reality was division, actually enshrined in the constitution under which Iraqis will vote this week. Rather than heal the society, the constitution cemented its divisions in place. One of the dirty little secrets that his advisers leak to the press all the time, a secret Bush seems incapable of acknowledging, is that there is nothing to prevent virtual independence in the Kurdish North and virtual theocracy in the South –a recipe for chaos in and around Baghdad. The other dirty little secret is that the first task of whatever government is formed will be to figure out a way to change this wretched constitution so there remains at least a dim possibility of allowing freedom to exist under its amended provisions.
Bushies care more about the talking point than the reality. Yesterday in his speech he said, “We set four major milestones to guide Iraq’s transition to constitutional democracy: the transfer of sovereignty, elections for a transitional government, the adoption of a democratic constitution, and elections for a new government under that constitution. In spite of the violence, Iraqis have met every milestone — and this is changing the political landscape in Iraq.” I heard this same talking point repeated by various rightie surrogates on the cable news shows yesterday.
Last week we learned that Bush insisted the Iraqis meet the milestones no matter what, which is why the Iraqi constitution is such a mess. The August 15 deadline for writing a constitution, in particular, was “met” by declaring the constitution to have been written and agreeing to actually write it later. And the way the U.S. shoved the process forward had the effect of further alienating the Sunnis and further fueling the insurgency. The one that’s killing our soldiers, BTW. Juan Cole wrote,
In my view, though, it was crazy to attempt to write a permanent constitution in only a couple of months, and the Aug. 15 deadline should have been extended for 6 months. As it was, the drafting process became very messy toward the end; people barely knew which language they were voting for in the referendum; and the Sunni Arabs rejected the constitution almost to a person. It was a very bad outcome, and if Iraq breaks up we will almost certainly trace the break-up to the rush to get the constitution drafted and the way in which the Kurds and Shiites stacked it with goodies for themselves at the expense of the Sunni Arabs.
But getting the constitution right was less important to the Bushies than meeting that milestone. They wanted that talking point. A missed deadline would certainly have turned into a talking point for the Dems leading up to our November 2004 elections.
Gotta keep our priorities straight, you know.
Several news stories this morning say the voter turnout is high, even among Sunnis, so expect victory celebrations on the Right for the remainder of the week. And it really would be best for all of us if the Iraqi government turns out to be able to govern, as opposed to being a failed state. But what the righties don’t understand is that nothing substantive has yet been accomplished. There may yet be a good outcome from Bush’s “democratization” of Iraq, but it could be years before that outcome becomes tangible.
And it’s a crapshoot. The odds are that, sooner or later, Iraq will devolve into civil war or become a satellite of Iran. Meanwhile, our troops continue to die, and we continue to spend about $6 billion a month in Iraq while the needs of U.S. citizens go unmet for lack of funds. And as long as we are there the insurgency will continue, but Bush is too wrapped up with himself as Democracy Jesus to let go of his glorious little war. We’re stuck there until 2009 or the Iraqis kick us out, whichever comes first.
So let’s hope the elections today will result in a working government that refuses to be a Bush puppet. It may be up to the Iraqis to save us from ourselves.
See also: Harith al-Dari, “No elections will be credible while the occupation continues.”
Update: See also Steve M.