Final Thoughts on Tomorrow’s Iraqi Election
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
**Comments courtesy of the Economist**