Iraq: Return of the Purple Fingers

purplefinger2010It isn’t a single election that makes a country democratic but durable, persistent democratic institutions and the peaceful turning over of power as the result of a democratic election. Iraq under Saddam had elections; everybody always knew what the outcome would be.

Tomorrow Iraqis return to the polls to elect a new national government. This is itself a hopeful sign. Peter Goodspeed, writing in the National Post, summarizes the situation:

Five years ago, U.S. troops played a major role in securing the polling places. This time, Iraqis are running the elections, providing troops for security, monitors to supervise the voting and courts to handle disputes.

Hopes the country’s divisions could be settled at the ballot box disappeared when politicians were unable to resolve such basic issues as sharing oil revenue, balancing powers between the central and regional governments or reconciling relationships between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

This election may have exacerbated the divisions instead of bridging them. Sectarianism has once again emerged as a dominant theme. For now, Iraq’s fate will be determined by the interactions of a few major coalitions.

The unified Shiite political front that swept the last election has split into two camps: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Da’wa or State of Law coalition, which presents itself as nonsectarian; and the far-more religiously inclined Iranian-influenced and Shiite-dominated Iraqi National Alliance, which combines the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and followers of the radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

A third group, the Iraqi National Movement , or Iraqiya, is led by Iyad Allawi, a secular nationalist who was the U.S.-appointed head of Iraq’s first post-war transitional government in 2004-05. Even the Kurds, kingmakers in the last parliament, are divided between the main Kurdish Alliance and the breakaway Kurdish Goran or Change party. Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20% of the population, boycotted the last parliamentary elections and see this poll as a chance to restore some of their lost power. But their votes will be divided between religious and regional parties, while 440 Sunni candidates have been banned from running because of alleged links to Saddam Hussein’s now-outlawed Baath party.

Will the election take place without major violence? Will Maliki be turned from office and will Allawi replace him? Will there be a peaceful transition?

I opposed the invasion of Iraq but I also opposed withdrawing from it as the situation threatened to descend into civil war, for a combination of humanitarian and geopolitical reasons. A civil war now in Iraq would be in nobody’s best interests but, unlike the situation in 2006 and 2007, it would be the Iraqis’ civil war, not ours. IMO it’s time for us to go.

Please comment on the situation going forward in Iraq in the comments. Try not to rake up old scores.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    We are acting now in loco parentis. As with actual parenting it’s very hard to decide exactly when to let go, when to offer support and when to force the dependent party to accept consequences and shoulder responsibility.

    Maybe we should Ferberize Iraq — let them cry it out and come to accept that they are spending the night alone.

    But the stakes are high. We don’t want to turn Iraq over to Iran, or to civil war, or to Saddam Rebooted. But we have limited means. So we have a half-in, half-out policy that — not to stretch the analogy too far — is pretty much exactly where every parent ends up.

    It would be great if every mess could be streamlined and made clear. But this, like so many fraught and difficult messes, probably requires a policy of muddling through while we edge toward the exit.

  2. steve says:

    While I hope for a better outcome, I fear this is as good as we get. I would expect Maliki to get re-elected and continue towards a strongman government. I dont think he lets go of power so easily. I think it inevitable that the Kurds act up and there are tons of Sunni refugees yet. If they can make a successful move towards getting refugees back, there might be some hope for a better outcome.

    OTOH, Nir Rosen, hardly a supporter of the war effort, says things on the street are better than at any time since we invaded.


  3. Mike says:

    I would like to see us as an emergency quick reaction force rather than a routine quick reaction force – i am not sure how feasible this is – perhaps pull back to Kuwait and if things start getting bad then send in a BCT or two. But, I agree, we have to go. It is time for Iraq to go it alone and work out the kinks.