Dr. Walid Phares
The Way to the Future or a Return to Oppression?
February 2, 2009
Why are the Iraqi elections important to Americans and the rest of the
international community? Simply because it will show, or won’t, that
"spreading democracy” is possible in that part of the world, a principle
against which Jihadist forces, authoritarian regimes and many critics
within the West have challenged.
Iraqi voters will tell if US efforts in the Middle East since 9/11 were
worth the sacrifices and if those who voted in Congress to remove the
Taliban and Saddam were — or not- - on the right side of the history of
democracy. Here are the voting battlefield’s challenges:
1) Regardless of the final results, Iraqi citizens on January 31, 2009
will be selecting representatives in 14 of the Republic’s 18 provinces.
Since February 1963, the Baathist regime in Baghdad eliminated free
elections for forty years until it was removed in 2003 by US and
Coalition forces. Then in four years as of 2005, the population was
allowed to cast their ballots four times! In January 2005, provincial
councils and a national assembly were elected. In October of that year,
a referendum confirmed the constitution. In December, parliamentary
elections followed. This weekend 15 million voters will select the
provinces assemblies and towards the end of the year another vote will
bring a new parliament and decide on the US-Iraqi defense treaty. This
is more electoral exercise than in Switzerland, even though the
anti-democratic forces are still a direct threat to the system.
2) The Jihadist forces of Iraq, including Al Qaeda, dislike the rise of
a democratic culture and the pro-Iranian militants plan on using the
system to their advantage. Massive violence didn't erupt in diverse
areas such as the Diyala province or in cities such as Mosul but few
incidents. But here again the preparedness of Iraqi forces, assisted by
the Coalition, will tell about the readiness of the country to manage
its own elections in the future.
3) The level of participation will tell us if popular trust in elections
is taking root and any numbers higher than 60 % will confirm this.
4) Iraq’s electoral landscape is diverse: Kurdistan will vote en masse
and their two coalitions will seize the assemblies. Participation by
Christian and other minorities such as Turkomen will tell us more about
future diversity in Kurdistan. In the center, the rise in participation
among Sunnis will tell us more about the success of the anti-Al Qaeda
element, but the final results will show the shape of future Sunni
politics in Iraq. In the largest provinces of the center and the south,
the distribution of seats between pro-Iranians, moderates, and
reformists will indicate the real winners in these elections. Whoever
would win among Shia will determine the type of relationship Iraq will
have with the United States in the next few years. But Kurdish and Sunni
Arab provinces can deprive any Shia party from returning the country as
a whole to dictatorship.
5) These elections will produce a new majority in Iraq, which will be
always determined by coalition building. However, one result cannot be
reversed anymore; no more return to single party dictatorship. Iraq may
break in pieces, but it will never return to a Saddam-like monstrosity;
and that is what authoritarians in contiguous countries fear the most.
The seeds of elections are now planted in Mesopotamia. With more than
140 political party and associations, hundreds of newspapers,
publications, dozens of radio and TV stations — a mosaic is in
existence. It will be hard on the Iranian Mullahs and on Al Qaeda to
crush all this diversity across the Shia, Sunni, Kurdish and Christian
lines. Once young Iraqis who will be voting for the first time, women
who have broken the walls of gender exclusiveness, and minorities
emerging from the underground, have tasted and tested this democratic
exercise — a resistance to fascism and totalitarianism is born.
Fundamentalism is said to have lost some support as an increasing number
of Iraqis (41% in the latest poll) said they prefer secular parties over
religious ones. But let’s be realistic, these are the early baby steps
of Iraqi democracy, and as long as the Iranian and Syrian regimes are
working on undermining the growing democratic culture inside their
neighbor, and as long as Wahabis and Salafis are receiving Petro Dollars
from the Arabia Peninsula to impose an Emirate in the Sunni Triangle —
the menace against the "Democratic Republic” is as real as the difficult
times experienced by Western democracies as they emerged in Europe and
bring us to the Obama administration’s "Iraq Plan:” If they have already
committed to the 16 months withdrawal program, so be it; but the new
White House should keep in mind that hurdling out of that country
without establishing real Iraqi defenses against the menacing wolves on
the eastern and western borders and the Jihadi corridor from the south,
will kill the forthcoming chances of a real change in the region. The
debate about why and when should we have helped Iraq against its bullies
is now in the hands of historians, but as President Obama announced in
his inaugural address, the destinies of that country should be secured
in the hands of the "Iraqi people,” not the Mullahs in Tehran or Assad
of Syria. These elections are probably the last before American military
begins to redeploy inside and from Iraq. The challenge for the U.S.
administration is to empower Iraqis to enjoy such exercises in democracy
many times more, instead of falling into obscure times again.
About Dr. Walid Phares
Dr. Walid Phares is the Director of Future Terrorism
Project at the Foundation for the
Democracies in Washington, a visiting scholar at the European Foundation
for Democracy and the author of the War of Ideas. Dr. Phares was one of the
architects of UNSCR 1559. He is also a Professor of Middle East
Studies at Florida Atlantic University and a contributing expert to FOX News.
Dr. Phares teaches Global Strategies at the National Defense
University. Professor Phares’
is the author of two critical books on the Islamofascist threat to Western
Civilization, "Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West”
and "The War of Ideas: Jihadism