Thursday, January 20, 2011

Iraq’s Ironic Democracy

In a country where a genuine democracy has never existed, the post-Saddam Iraq’s democracy looks ironic. The people’s say is ignored, their rulers are imposed by U.S. and Iran and regional powers.

After the establishment of the Iraqi state by Churchill in the 1920s, King Faisal, a non-Iraqi Sunni, was brought to rule the country. He was from the Hashemite Dynasty in Saudi Arabia. This resulted in undermining the Shiite majority in the south, and forcibly annexing the Kurds of the north to the newborn state. Until 2003, no regimes were democratically elected in Iraq.

Literally defining democracy, the word is derived from two Greek words. Demo-people and Kratia-rule, which means people’s rule. In democratic countries, people vote to elect the party that will rule for next four or five years. But in Iraq’s recent elections, people’s vote did not, and will be unlikely to, produce that result. Iraq’s new government, after 8-month of political stalemate, is a product of a struggle between the US and Iran. Without elections, we would have a similar US-Iran-made government.

The Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition, headed by Iyad Allawi, won most seats, two seats ahead of the Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s State of Law bloc. The Iraqi National Alliance, a Shiite bloc, came third with 70 seats. The Kurds came forth with 57 seats.

After the election results were revealed, Iran felt much threatened that the Sunnis may come back to power after their bloc had slightly finished first. The US, however, liked the results believing in the likelihood of less Iranian influence on a new Iraqi government, which will oversee the withdrawal of US forces next year.
Thus, an Iran-US contest began to shape Iraq’s new government. This contest lasted 8 months, led to an upsurge in violence and the deaths of 764 Iraqi civilians.

Iran finally became ascendant. It prevented the secular leader Allawi from forming a new government. Allawi has been promised to lead a strategic council that nobody knows how powerful it might be. Allawi himself does not seem to want that. What is more, Iran also reconciled two most rival Shiite parties of Iraq, Maliki’s State of Law and the Sadrists, further strengthening its hand in Iraqi politics. The anti-American Sadrist group, 40 seats, used to militarily fight with Maliki’s government in Baghdad and Basra.  But its support to Maliki was as deceive to kill Allawi’s hopes to come to power as threatening to the United States interests. It’s leader now studies religion in Iran. The White House has openly spoken out against the threats that this group poses on its interests, warning Iraqis not to allow them leading sensitive positions like security and intelligence ones.

Iran has historically had unhappy stories with Sunnis. Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Iraqi dictator, waged an eight-year long war against Iran following the Islamic revolution that unseated Mohammed Raza Shah in 1979.

The US, for its part, used its utmost capacity to ensure a good participation of the Sunnis and Kurds in the government to counterbalance the Shiite domination of Iraq. “The U.S. is therefore working with its long-time Iraqi ally, Iyad Allawi, in a desperate effort to assemble an alternative coalition that would keep out Iran and the Sadrists as much as possible.” said Ranj Alaaldin in a column to the Guardian.

An Iraqi initiative by Massoud Barzani, president of Kurdistan, finally ended the US-Iran political strugg
le over determining Iraq’s key posts. But this struggle lasts unknowingly longer and still has the possibility to produce another political crisis after Eid as Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups start struggling to control best ministerial and state portfolios. Maliki has “constitutionally” less than one month left to form a government.

The Kurds are unlikely to agree to get less than what they had in the previous four years. In the key ministries, they are looking to lead at least either Ministry Foreign Affairs, Finance or Oil. The Sunnis and Shiites are also struggling for these positions as well. Maliki’s group has already warned Sunnis and Kurds that the two ministries of Defense and Interior will be headed by independent people.  Who is independent in Iraq? This is by all means one of the most difficult questions to answer in a politicized country.

Iraq’s recent developments have essentially showed that the democracy building- process in Iraq is hindered by many factors, beginning from U.S., Iran and other neighboring country’s interventions who are attempting to impose their influence and challenge the Iraqis’ voice. Moreover, these interventions have resulted in creating mistrust among the Iraqis, preventing them from forming a government that is able to stabilize the country and provide basic services for the people. One now might rethink whether democracy is ultimately a good answer to Iraq?

Karokh Nuraddin is the managing editor of the International Kurdish Press (IKP), an English-language magazine in Kurdistan. 

 This op-ed was published in

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