Do the Iraq Election Results Present a New Challenge?

Because their 48% showing will require the Shiites to collaborate with other factions, many analysts are optimistic about Iraq. But, as the Christian Science Monitor reports, this development cuts both ways for the United States:

How the Elections Will Affect US Role in Iraq

The US wanted to hand down a democracy to the Iraqi people, and in key respects these elections delivered in a big way. With no overriding majority resulting from the vote, Iraq’s political leaders will have to practice the democratic arts of negotiation and compromise as they form a new government and move on to the writing of a new constitution.

That portends both good things and bad for the US. On the one hand, any abrupt move to an extreme – say, an Iranian-style theocracy – appears unlikely. Opponents like the Kurds, who made a strong second-place showing in the vote, appear to have the means to put a check on that possibility.

But at the same time, negotiations are expected to be slow, and whatever government is formed could be weak.

And that could hearten the insurgency, tempt Iraq’s neighbors to meddle more, and make the government less responsive to the Iraqi people in the areas where they are interested in seeing fast improvement, such as services and the economy.

The result is that the US role in Iraq, while it may change, is not likely to be any less intense in the months to come. “This [the Bush] administration is not unhappy with these election results, but they do present new challenges and portend a different role for the US in the future,” says Carole O’Leary, an Iraq specialist and expert in Kurdish affairs at American University in Washington.

[…T]he US is likely to find itself even more crucial to Iraq’s reconstruction, since Iraqi leaders will be focused on forming a government and writing a constitution.

“It will be critical that the US focus over the next few months on helping this government produce results,” says Henri Barkey, a former State Department Iraq expert now at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. “It’s only realistic to anticipate a certain amount of chaos at the government level, as leadership positions are negotiated and the constitution becomes the focus,” he says. “So the US will have to really be proactive in helping the government bring the water and electricity and other services that will be what the Iraqi people use to judge the merits of the whole process.”

All told, I think we’re still better off with the electoral outcome. But it’s yet another reminder that, if we want to be serious about democracy promotion, we’ll have to find new ways of supporting the fledgling government, not positioning ourselves to back off. In many ways, this interim period between the election and the constitutional assembly represents a second chance for the Bush administration. We can’t go back in time and fill whatever holes may have existed in our postwar planning. But we can try to avoid a repeat of history by anticipating the new challenges that Iraq’s political transition will pose.

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Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.