by Austin Bay
March 9, 2010
What kind of coalition government willemerge from Iraq's March 7 national elections? Initial reports indicate PrimeMinister Noori al-Maliki's supporters won a plurality of the vote (perhaps athird), with former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's "secularlist" in second place. An Iraqi political analyst I spoke with saidpost-election political negotiations are underway, and the new coalition arrangementswill clarify by early to mid-April.
Whether dubbed horse-trading orcamel-haggling, the post-election process of parliamentary coalition buildingis another signal that open, democratic politics -- with its frustratinguncertainties, compromise and concessions -- are emerging in Iraq. The violentwhim of the dictator no longer rules.
"Emerging" is the operativeword. Iraq's institutions remain fragile. Corrupt business practices andbribery threaten public trust in the nascent government. While the Iraqi Armyhas demonstrated increasing self-sufficiency in conducting internal securityoperations (beginning with Operation Charge of the Knights in March 2008),police forces (especially local departments) are at best iffy organizations.Though Iraqi Kurdish leaders express strong support for the Baghdad government,complex and potentially violent administrative problems (the city of Kirkuk,for example) are unresolved.
External enemies threaten Iraq. TheKhomeinist thugocracy controlling Iran fears Iraq's democracy, for it givesIranian opposition Green Movement activists a Middle Eastern model of palpabledemocratic political change. So the mullahs meddle, with guns and money.Iranian intelligence agents definitely support Shia Arab gangsters in Iraq and maywell aid Iraqi Sunni extremists. The Iranian nuclear weapons program is as mucha threat to Iraq as it is to Israel --perhaps more so, since the Iraqis are theIranians' ancient antagonists.
Baathist Syria continues to provide ahaven for "former regime elements" -- bigshots in Saddam Hussein'shorrid tyranny. The tyrant's exiled minions have cash filched from the Iraqipeople during the dictatorship. There is reason to believe they help bothpro-Saddam and al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq.
Indeed, terrorist bombs (most detonated inBaghdad, so television crews could cover the sensational carnage) scarred theelections, but the Iraqi people went to the polls. Iraqi voters once againwaved ink-stained fingers, as they did in January 2005 when Iraq conducted itsfirst national election and the Iraqi people demonstrated they were prepared todie to forward Iraq's liberating political experiment.
It is regrettable that so manyprivileged citizens in free societies dismissed and denigrated thosegroundbreaking elections. The 2010 elections provide an appropriate time forthe cultural and ethnic snobs (and snob is a kind word) who declared thatdemocratic politics were beyond Iraqi capabilities to issue a series of abject,groveling apologies. The most reprehensible faction in this defeatist crowd isthe ignorant clot of hard-left propagandists and faculty-club chumps who sworethe Iraqis were better off under Saddam Hussein's vicious tyranny. The electionserves as a teaching moment for these purveyors of fascism and inhumanity.
Given Iraq's democratic promise, theexternal threats it faces and its internal fragility, the Obama administrationmust reconsider its "hard and fast" withdrawal timetable for combatforces.
The turmoil in neighboring Iran, whichbegan in June 2009, is reason enough for Obama to offer to amend his Augustdeadline. There are other issues as well, such as ensuring adequate defense ofIraqi air space. The Iraqi Air Force currently flies prop planes andhelicopters. Let the new Iraqi governing coalition make the decision about theretention of combat forces.
Treating the Iraqis as allies capableof assessing changing conditions would be truly smart diplomacy. Iraq needs areliable American partner, and to promote genuine peace in the Middle East,America sorely needs a democratic Iraqi ally.