Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Final Thoughts on Tomorrow’s Iraqi Election

Posted in Iraq by Dan on March 6, 2010

Tomorrow, millions of Iraqis will stand in line to cast their vote.  And it’s a pretty significant one; the last time Iraq had a full parliamentary election was the year 2005 (and we all know how well that turned out).  Since that period, we have seen Iraq’s fair-share of troubles, including a vicious cycle of sectarian warfare, terrorism from Al’Qaeda, Iranian infiltration of Iraqi society, and a political cancer that I like to call corruption.

But just as we have witnessed failures over the past few years, Americans and Iraqis have also seen some successes.  Violence between Shias and Sunnis began to decrease in 2007, just as President Bush ordered tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops into Bagdad.  Al’Qaeda in Iraq is now reduced to a figment of what it once was in 2005 and 2006.  Foreign investment is starting to trickle into Iraq’s oil industry, and the Iraqi Government is finally reaching out to its Arab neighbors through business deals and security contracts.

This is why tomorrow’s election is so important.  It’s the cornerstone of the U.S. adventure (or misadventure) in Iraq, and it will surely be a test of how mature the country has become since Saddam’s ouster.

Yet just as the election will test Iraqi maturation, the contest will also determine whether or not America’s troop surge worked in its entirety.  Will the 2007 surge be regarded as one of Washington’s greatest foreign-policy achievements, or will it be construed as yet another example of American mismanagement?

People seem to forget what the main purpose of the U.S. surge was. It wasn’t designed to specifically root out every bad guy in Iraqi society, which would have been an impossible task anyway. The objective of the surge was much more limited and pragmatic.  The Bush/Gates/Petraeus team wanted to decrease the sectarian violence to a tolerable level, giving Iraqi politicians a brief, albeit peaceful, period to reconcile their differences.

The problem is that none of the issues between the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds have been resolved thus far. The Arab-Kurdish oil dispute is still ongoing, and could turn violent rather quickly when U.S. troops withdraw entirely. P.M. Maliki could continue to cement his firm control over Iraqi state institutions, leaving Sunnis in the dust. And of course there is always the possibility of Al’Qaeda relocating as Iraq disappears from America’s mind.

If the election is not at least somewhat successful, the U.S. may have gone through seven years of warfare for nothing; well, that is if you think replacing a Sunni dictatorship with a Shia one is an achievement.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist**


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9 Responses

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  1. bampbs said, on March 6, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    I really wish that W or one of the other Sissy Hawks (thank you, Calvin Trillin) had read a history of Mesopotamia from the end of WWI before deciding to invade Iraq. The “Decider” might have thought better of entering the mess that Churchill created and that only Saddaam’s brutality held together. The Kurds want independence. The Shia want control and revenge. The Sunni are scared and full of resentment at their loss of dominance. This outcome was obvious, indeed, unavoidable.

  2. motown67 said, on March 6, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    What Iraq is heading towards is a very typical struggling developing country. They have a lot of poor people, they have a lot of unemployment, they’re completely dependent upon oil, which doesn’t trickle down much, the government is dysfunctional. There are a lot of countries just like that, it’s just that Iraq has to deal with a huge terrorism threat as well. When thinking of what Iraq will look like in the future I always think of Nigeria. It too has a lot of oil, it too is poor, it too has a government that just barely works, it also has violent groups, and those that would like autonomy, and its massively corrupt. musingsoniraq.blogspot.com

  3. imcampos said, on March 6, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Come to think of it, a Sunni president such as Saddam would come in handy these days as an ally to confront Iran, wouldn’t he? And spare me of the democracy speech: except for Israel, aren’t they all dictators or kings in that region?

    • Jer_X said, on March 6, 2010 at 6:07 pm

      imcampos: the last time we encouraged Saddam to mess with Iran we created the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and quite possibly directly led to the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. 8 years of war (The Whirlwind War according to Saddam in 1980) likely only made Iran more militant, resistant to outside forces, and may have started their ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons. If America has learned anything it is that proxy wars are generally a bad idea.

      I won’t give you the democracy speech, I happen to believe that some cultures can function perfectly well under alternative forms of government. However, bringing democracy to Iraqi people was the 2nd pillar of the reason to invade in the first place, so a sham democracy will be in place when America leaves. After that they won’t care.

  4. Simonator said, on March 6, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    McCain is right when he says: “And if it takes 100 years.” Although the health care debate definitely shows that the right guy won for domestic reasons Obama needs to change his mind with regard to Iraq – maybe not to 100 years but to whatever it takes to make this a success of democracy and freedom in the middle east. Otherwise the brave men and women of the US military and other armed forces as well as Iraqi civilians would have been wounded and killed in vain. Giving up, letting down or faltering is not an option. The legacy of W. – guts and glory.

  5. ShellyBelly said, on March 6, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    The biggest problem in Iraq is the same problem that all developing countries face: how to create a powerful governmental entity, able to gain a monopoly on violence, in a country lacking any signifigant order or infrastructure. Sadly, history has proved this a difficult task and our presence in Iraq will only delay the inevitable.

    Can you name one signifigant country that began as a nothing and was artifically brought together by the outside military forces? You can’t, because this country doesn’t exist. Countries overcome the “dictator” phase of development by creating their own revolutionary movements that are able to oust the powers at hand. If these movements lack the organization and/or military power to overthrow the current leaders, that means they are probably equally unable of running the government and maintaining military dominance. In fact, it is usually during this process of insurection that they gain the political infrasturture and public support necessary to later lead. This process isn’t pretty, but it is necessary.

    The problem with the current standard is that western governments enter these dictatorships, try and assist weak factions by offering them governmental authority without requiring them to grow themselves. This is the sort of “top-down” developmental model that has been largely detrimental to many states in Africa. It only creates weak, corrupt, and artificial institutions. I fear we will only establish a “democracy” in Iraq to see it toppled over by some faction able to gather more public support than the current “puppet” administration.

    The government will only be able to maintain itself with American military support, as they themselves were never required to build an army to overthrow Hussain. Once we leave, instability will result.

  6. Working Man said, on March 6, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Many of the comments on this forum seem confused about interests and responsibilities, and repeat the usual hard-core ideological rants.

    We all wish the Iraqi people well. But running their country is their job, not ours.

    The real question: what is the West’s interest?

    Whatever else happens in Iraq, in the next few years they will not be invading Kuwait, nor financing Hamas suicide bombers, nor shooting SCUD missiles at Tel Aviv. They also have a CHANCE at democracy, and I do hope it will succeed. But its Iraq’s job to make that work, not the West’s.

    From where I sit, we are better off, since Saddam will not be shooting SCUD missiles into my home. If someone thinks that is not an important interest, that opinion is strange.

    Two criticisms are true:
    1) there were no WMD in there; which appears to be an honest mistake but still huge.
    2) stopping Saddam could have been achieved cheaper than $800bn. That huge sum is because the USA (to its credit!) wanted more: it wanted to give Iraq a chance at democracy.

    They now have that chance. If Iraqis blow it, its their responsibility.

  7. anan said, on March 7, 2010 at 6:01 am

    This is the first full parliamentary election since 12.15.2005. That election had 77% or 78% of all eligible voters vote.

    This is despite substantial efforts by the Arab dictatorship to disrupt the elections, support the resistance, attack the ISF and weaken Iraqi institutions.

    One Iraqi told me that Iraq fought a war with 15 countries. The real truth is that Iraq won this war. Today Iraq has the most professional and high quality army it has ever fielded. This is also the least sectarian army Iraq has fielded since at least 1990; some would say 1979.

    The success in oil and NG is amazing. Global energy companies have to boost Iraqi exports to over 10 million barrels oil/day within 5 years or pay the GoI heavy fines. Iraq was able to persuade companies around the world to bid for these contracts; and extracted an amazingly good deal.

    Let’s pause for a moment; within 5 years Iraq will be the largest producer of oil in the world; bigger than even America. This is a country that exported 2 million barrels/day in 2002.

    Similarly, Iraq’s NG contracts are amazing in their scope and magnitude (and low margins for global energy companies.)

    Iraq’s CAPEX tempo is astounding. 4 new oil export terminals; not to even mention the NG (natural gas) facilities being contructed.

    Imagine what the GoI is going to do with all this revenue. Even assuming low oil prices; Iraq should have over $200 billion/year in annual GoI revenues in the near future.

    Iraq’s government revenues in 2002 was about $15 billion.

    Iraq’s budget deficit in 2009 was 20% of GDP. Similar to the US federal government spending $3 trillion per year more than annual revenue.

    Non oil GDP growth in Iraq is also very fast (granted much of it is GoI gov’t spending driven . . . including GoI CAPEX spending.)

    I really don’t understand all the pessimism about Iraq in the comment section here.

    What is your e-mail address Daniel R. DePetris?

    • Dan said, on March 8, 2010 at 1:08 am

      First off anan, thanks for the comment.

      Secondly, due to security reasons and spam issues, I don’t release my email account. I only have one account that I use, and a lot of the messages I receive are junk-mail. So surely you won’t mind if I ask what for?


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