As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Iraqi Election Update

The newspapers are reporting a big win for Prime Minister Maliki in the provincial elections, and predictably are leaving out the nuance that such a victory entails. First of all they are claiming that this win for Maliki is a "loss for Iran," as if Iran doesn't have major ties to the Dawa Party and Maliki himself.

Second, while everyone is focusing on the Shiite Maliki/Sadr split - and really, Maliki had all the guns, so his victory was sealed when the US military helped him raid Basra - it's the marginalization of the Sunnis in Baghdad that could spark outrage and unrest, much like the apparent electoral fraud in Anbar:

The conventional wisdom has been that the provincial elections would redress the sectarian imbalance in the Baghdad Council -- which had only one Sunni, a Communist, out of 57 seats because of their boycott of the 2005 elections. Sunnis (many of whom continue to believe themselves a majority) expected to capture a significant share of the Baghdad council this time. Most U.S. analyses shared that expectation, which was the basis for hopes that the provincial elections would lock in the incorporation of Sunnis into the political process.

But a dramatic increase in Sunni representation (commensurate with their aspirations) was always unlikely for one big reason: the clearly visible refusal to take serious measures to allow refugees or internally displaced persons to vote. IDPs were technically enfranchised, but the rule that they vote in their place of origin and the inefficiency of the bureaucracy ensured that few actually would. In September, Brian Katulis and I warned that failure to deal effectively with the IDP problem would "essentially ratify the country's new sectarian map" created by the bloody sectarian cleansing of 2006-07. According to IOM's authoritative surveys, about 64% of Iraqi displaced come from Baghdad -- and it is in Baghdad where the effects of their disenfranchisement are most being felt. With less than 10% (or even 20%) of the seats in the Baghdad council, Sunnis may well feel that this warning has come true. How will they react?

The unexpectedly strong showing of Maliki may reflect a popular yearning for a strong central government. But add on the unexpectedly strong showing of the Islamic Party in Anbar, and it is difficult to not wonder whether there is more to the strong showing of the incumbent parties than their popularity. Months of "shaping operations" and state-funded patronage may have had something to do with it as well. But either way, the provincial elections seem likely to shift attention to exactly the question we worried about last fall: how will frustrated challengers react to their failure to obtain the share of state power that they had expected? Ahmed Abu Risha, head of the Iraqi Awakening Conference and a key American ally in Sunni Iraq, has already proposed one answer: "We will form the government of Anbar anyway...An honest dictatorship is better than a democracy won through fraud." That beats the "Darfur" and "graveyards" and "streets running with blood" of which others speak, I suppose... but none are quite what the cheerleaders for this process seem to have had in mind.

The Sunni Awakening was predicated on hopes that they would get a share of power somewhere down the line. If they are shut out of the political process, who's to say they won't turn to other means?

...It looks like some thumbs were placed on the scales in Anbar, giving the election to a third party and not the Awakening coalition or the Iraqi Islamic Party. Lynch:

I never expected the provincial elections to solve all of Iraq's problems, and they didn't. The elections have created new problems that need to be recognized and dealt with -- especially Sunni frustration in Baghdad, intra-Sunni strife in Anbar, perceptions of electoral fraud in support of incumbents, IDP and refugee disenfranchisement, and the impact of the election of a strongly anti-Kurdish front up north. But that doesn't mean that disaster is lurking around every corner -- with luck, these new problems can be dealt with constructively.

Lest my coverage appear too negative, let me say that I'm very pleased to see the collapse of ISCI across much of the country and hopefully the end of its designs on creating a Shia super-region. And I'm happy with the strengthening of forces calling for a stronger central state -- since I've been arguing for years that the consolidation of a Weberian Iraqi state is the key to establishing the conditions for successfully extracting the U.S. military. With luck, the coalition-building phase can allow points of entry for some of the potentially frustrated challengers.

I'm sincerely hoping that all the parties involved can work out their conflicts peacefully and that the results are accepted as broadly legitimate -- both of which require frank, honest looks at what really happened and why. And then with the elections out of the way, the U.S. should move on to the business of starting its troop withdrawals and setting a new course.

UPDATE: This Anthony Zinni story is completely weird. He was offered the Ambassador job in Iraq and then never heard anything until he found out he was replaced by Christopher Hill (who ran the North Korea diplomacy)? How could they do that? Zinni is a valuable asset for Democrats on national security. Is the Obama team going to disrespect every Democratic general one by one?

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