Democracy at Gunpoint

The Swamp has a good little nugget of information on the current Civil War “eruption of violence” in Southern Iraq between the central government, composed of the pluarality government whose largest members are Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Dawa, and al-Sadr’s Jaish al Mahdi.

The upshot? One of the causes of the current surge in violence is the current government’s fear that it will lose the next election:

But no one should romanticize Maliki, Al Dawa, or the Hakim faction/ISCI. The current fighting is as much a power struggle for control of the south, and the Shi’ite parts of Baghdad and the rest of the country, as an effort to establish central government authority and legitimate rule.

The nature of this power struggle was all too clear during a recent visit to Iraq. ISCI had de facto control over the Shi’ite governorates in the south, and was steadily expanding its influence and sometimes control over the Iraqi police. It was clearly positioning itself for power struggle with Sadr and for any elections to come. It also was positioning itself to support Hakim’s call for a nine governorate Shi’ite federation — a call that it had clear Iranian support.

The US teams we talked to also made it clear that these appointments by the central government had no real popular base. If local and provincial elections were held with open lists, it was likely that ISCI and Dawa would lose most elections because they are seen as having failed to bring development and government services.

In particular, it’s far from clear that the current struggle in Baghdad is truly aimed at stabilizing the city, as opposed to merely strengthening the political position of ISCI and Dawa:

This does not mean that the central government should not reassert control of Basra. It is not peaceful, it is a significant prize as a port and the key to Iraq’s oil exports, and gang rule is no substitute for legitimate government. But it is far from clear that what is happening is now directed at serving the nation’s interest versus that of ISCI and Al Dawa in the power struggle to come. It is equally far from clear that the transfer of security responsibility to Iraqi forces in the south is not being used by Maliki, Al Dawa, and ISCI to cement control over the Shi’ite regions at Sadr’s expense and at the expense of any potential local political leaders and movements.

To be sure, given the horrible situation in Basra, I’ve no doubt that there is some genuine desire on the part of the government to restore order there. But this would be far from the first time that government leaders took advantage of a genuine crisis to strengthen their own power. And there is no part of this situation that bodes well for the October governorate elections there.

The fact of the matter is that this armed struggle for power is, in part, a result of the bizarre nature of Iraqi elections, which do more to promote political parties, rather than individual candidates, which makes the dominance of one party over another nationwide a priority, as opposed to a system where candidates from parties compete head to head. While similar systems to work in more stable parliamentary systems, it’s a less satisfactory solution in Iraq, where “political party” is pretty much a synonym for “armed militia”, and “winning elections” comprises “killing people who vote for the other party.”

(link via Matthew Yglesias)

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    …nature of Iraqi elections, which do more to promote political parties, rather than individual candidates, which makes the dominance of one party over another nationwide a priority…

    Many would argue that the same situation exists in the US today. And some of us even expect the same outcome.

  2. Michael says:

    Many would argue that the same situation exists in the US today. And some of us even expect the same outcome.

    Well, except for the militias and the killing people part.

  3. Bithead says:

    … yet.

  4. Michael says:

    … yet.

    You know something the rest of us don’t?

  5. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    … yet.

    Amen!

  6. Grewgills says:

    … yet.

    Amen!

    Really?

  7. […] Or see Alex Knapp: […]