Posted on 27-03-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After the conclusion of the second elections since Saddam Hussein’s removal from power, Iraq has reached the crossroads.  Still unclear is whether Iraq will manage its first peaceful transfer of power without the backing of American guns.  The elections marked the resurrection of former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi who holds on to a narrow lead over incumbent Nouri Kamal al-Maliki.  See link.  Swept from power in the last elections after being branded an American puppet, Allawi made a remarkable return by crafting a coalition of Sunnis, Shiites tired of religious parties and people opposed to Iran.

But all is not well.  Al-Maliki has yet to accept the results and worse is considering post election moves supposedly based on the constitution to modify the outcome.  See link.  Al-Maliki enjoyed the benefits of incumbency and spent many of the last few months trying to weed out potential Sunni rivals by using (or abusing) the de-Baathification process.   It is one thing to weed out avid supporters of Saddam.  But a blanket ban on anybody with any affiliation with the Baath Party, which as in the Communist world was the only game in town, reeks of an attempt to pick on the already disaffected Sunni minority.  It also insults the popular vote plurality that Allawi’s coalition assembled.

Even if al-Maliki was not sulking, an Allawi government would take some time to assemble.  While he edged out al-Maliki’s coalition for a plurality, he is well short of the 163 seats needed to get a majority.  He will have to cut a deal with the Kurds who are uncomfortable with some of his Sunni allies and the coalition partly led by the thuggish and volatile Moqtada al-Sadr (who has a bone to pick with al-Maliki for sending the Iraqi army against his militia a couple of years ago).

In the norms of most parliamentary democracies Allawi as the leader of the largest pre-election alliance would get the first shot at forming a government.  But if he fails to do so al-Maliki could yet return to power.  The result will be a period of uncertainty as the political horse trading begins and al-Maliki’s attempts to pull an Ahmadinejad or a Karzai on the election results is singularly unhelpful.  By picking on the Sunni majority he weakens the strongest rationale for a parliamentary system in a multi-ethnic country – the ability to get all sections of society a voice at the table.  This is something that is sorely absent in the winner take all Presidential system that exists in Afghanistan where the whims of the President and the executive have far fewer checks.

Of course the coming months will also highlight the primary flaw in a parliamentary system- the lack of stability when elections produce such a fractured and muddled mandate.  Coalition politics are not easy for mature democracies.  Iraq’s leaders need to pick up this skill fast and act in a good faith to avoid their nation, which was an artificial construct cobbled together after World War I to begin with, falling apart.

From the American perspective the elections likely ensure the withdrawal of American troops on schedule.  With the anti-American al-Sadr playing king-maker neither an Allawi or al-Maliki government (which normally would both be relatively pro-American) is likely to have the political support to keep American troops around even if they wanted to.  Ready or not Iraq will soon be taking its first steps on its own in its nasty neighborhood.  It is yet another example of how clueless and steeped in fantasy the Chenyites and neo-cons were when they assumed that toppling Saddam would enable the establishment of permanent American bases in Iraq.

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