Vol. 5 Num 558 Wed. December 21, 2005  

Bottom Line
Iraq's elections: What next?

On December 15, ten to eleven million eligible Iraqis are reported to have voted for the country's landmark election for a four year Parliament. The Bush administration hopes that the outcome of the election would boost the prospect of drawing minority Sunnis (nearly 25 percent of the total population) into the political process, thus ending the insurgency since Saddam's downfall in April 2003, and paving the way for an exit of US-led foreign troops.

Although final results are not expected for at least two weeks, the results are not expected to immediately install a government because the sectarian factions have to go through political "horse trading" before they come up with a government.. It may be recalled the current interim government was in place only after two months of political wrangling among the elected politicians after the election results were published.

Will election bring stability in Iraq?
The simple answer appears to be in the negative, primarily because the Iraqi constitution, adopted this year, under the Shi'a and Kurd dominated Parliament needs to be amended to satisfy the Sunnis.

Political observers believe that the outcome of elections may not end the insurgency because the current constitution is not acceptable to Sunnis as they are out of the loop from oil revenues. According to them, the constitution is a recipe for disintegration of Iraq into three countries, leading to total collapse of the Iraqi state.

The Sunni MPs will demand for amendments of the constitution because they accepted participation in the election on the promise that the constitution would be revisited for amendments with a view to redressing the grievances of the Sunnis. There lies the first hurdle for the elected MPs in the coming months. And this could be a big ask given the

vested interests of the different factions among the Iraqi political leaders.

Another fact to note is that the participation of Sunnis in election will strengthen their hand in the new Parliament. They are likely to play a role that was not available to them in the last Parliament. Unless their concerns are addressed, the insurgency is likely to intensify and continue in the country.

There are other factors that deserve mention:
The election took place in the country under occupation of foreign forces. Observers including the US-based Human Rights Watch believe under the current circumstances, the election cannot be fair and free.

The TV footage showed empty roads as curfew was imposed on the day of election -- a strategy devised by the US-led forces. Such strategy cannot be an environment for democratic elections.

Second, it was the US Administrator Paul Bremer in 2003 who had injected the sectarian division among Iraqis by his deliberate actions in favouring Shi'as and Kurds in preference to Sunnis who were marginalized in the administration in Iraq. All Sunnis were deemed to be supporters of Saddam Hussein and accordingly they were suspects.

Third, the Shi'a dominated interim government of Al-Jaafari followed the trend of Bremer and has been totally against the Baathists and does not want their inclusion within the administration. If such attitude lingers on, stability is likely to elude the country.

Fourth, the Cairo Declaration of Arab League in November, endorsed by all Iraqi factions, has called for a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces. It demonstrates the uneasiness of ordinary Iraqis about the presence of foreign forces in the country and also provides a signal to Shi'as to reach out to Sunnis for reconciliation on national issues.

Exit strategy
It seems from media reports that the current strength of US forces (160,000) is likely to be reduced from the beginning of next year as the Bush administration is under extreme pressure from the Congress. No more the Republican dominated Congress responds meekly to the dictates of the White House. For example, President Bush had to agree with the anti-torture laws that will prohibit torture or inflicting degrading treatment to detainees both in the US and overseas. The law was initiated by Senator McCain.

Furthermore, the Congress adopted a resolution in recent times demanding regular progress reports on the war on Iraq from the President and urged the President to hand over power quickly to Iraqis.

Although the election took place in a relatively calm and eerie atmosphere, there seems to be a hard road for Iraqi politicians to tread on. Mature political judgment is required for all factions to resolve the burning issues confronting them. It s not an easy task.

Unless all the major factions -- Shi'as, Sunnis and Kurds -- address the issues and reconcile among themselves, the new Iraq is likely to continue to be a destabilizing factor in the Middle East. The Rumsfeld doctrine: "If you want to beat the hell out of a place, do so and get out" -- seems to be misplaced in the current situation in Iraq as the Pentagon under Rumsfeld cannot easily get out from Iraq. The question is, has the Bush administration learned its lesson?

Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.
Iraqis queuing for casting ballots