Iraqi Elections: Where is Iraq Heading?

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington
There is no doubt that the people of Iraq were  remarkable in participating by the millions in the second national election since the U.S. occupied the oil-rich country in 2003 but whether this momentous event marks a new beginning in the strife-torn country remains to be seen.

 The turnout, another testament to the Iraqis determination to challenge the insurgency, exceeded expectations and was even much higher than many countries in Western Europe, even the United States. Over 62 percent or about 12 million of the registered voters participated in the election of 325 members of Parliament from more than 6,000 candidates in 16 provinces. Although the participation was lower than the last parliamentary election in 2005 when 76 percent of the voters took part, this time around it unmistakably underlined their long yearning for full independence from all U.S. troops who are scheduled to leave Iraq at the end of 2011.
As expected, President Barack Obama and many others in the U.S. lauded the election in Iraq.  Obama stressed that he has “great respect for the millions of Iraqis who refused to be deterred by actions of violence” as was the case on that day when 38 Iraqis were killed at different locations, mostly in Baghdad.  The poll was seen elsewhere in the West as “a key test for Iraq’s fledgling democracy,” a point that some feel is not necessarily the case.
“Unfortunately,” wrote Marina Ottoway, “elections aren’t all we’ve built them into.”  The director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington explained that “they are not defining moments, but only a small part of much larger and more complicated stories, and they can even, at times, keep democracy from taking root.” She continued “elections are a convenient mechanism to mark the end of an intervention; typically, international pressure starts winding down at that point.”
There are several states in the Arab world where elections are held regularly and with much fanfare but in most, if not all, freedom as practiced in the West  remains a mirage.  On the other hand, it is very clear that many Americans are eager to end as soon as possible this expensive intervention and shameful action. Even Karl Rove, described as the political “architect” of former President George W. Bush, writes in his just released memoir that Bush probably would not have invaded Iraq had he known there were no weapons of mass destruction there. The failure to find them severely damaged the Bush presidency, he acknowledged, and goes on to blame himself for not discounting the allegations then that “Bush lied.”
Whatever, the price that the Americans and especially the Iraqis have paid for this huge blunder is sky high. Over 4,300 Americans were killed there and about 30,000 others have been injured. In the case of Iraq, where no official figures have been released, the number of Iraqi deaths are said to be slightly over 100,000 while the casualties are put at 600,000.
If the just-concluded election mirrors the earlier one in 2005, where no single party will control the new parliament, Iraq is in for a long period of instability and a possible delay in the withdrawal of American combat troops by August.  In 2005, it took five months for the Iraqi parliamentarians to agree on the makeup of a coalition government. This time around may be a repeat performance. For one, the election was said to be rigged when some 500 candidates were banned from the ballot, mostly former members of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein and the result of the machinations of Ahmed Chalabi, onetime the Bush administration’s favorite Iraqi and now is very close to Iran. Another serious accusation is that the number of ballots exceeded the number of registered voters by 6,000.
The silence of the Arabs as they witness this sordid situation in neighboring Iraq is pitiful. After all Iraq is a key oil-rich state in the region and all its Arab neighbors should come to its assistance or else sectarianism will undermine the new regime in Baghdad and spread elsewhere. Due to the unbelievable violence in Iraq in the last seven years, the new government should initiate new laws, especially concerning its abundant oil, so that it can stand up on its own feet. The much-trumpeted “Democracy” alone will not save the unstable situation.

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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