Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tight Race a Test for America's Iraq

Can Iraq be a functional Democracy?

This question rests on the minds of every foreign policymaker in the United States.

So far, so good. Minimal violence marred the election, and over 60% of Iraqis turned out (this is about as good as most Western democracies).

But the big test is still coming. The race is tight. US-picked Nouri al-Maliki is in a tight race with Sunni rival Allawi--and might just lose.

But either way, neither is likely to get a majority in his alliance right away, which means that a long period of coalition-building awaits the budding Iraqi parliament. Such political grinds are typical of most parliamentary systems, but the question will be whether Iraq can handle it.

If I had to guess, I'd guess that Iraq's democracy is unlikely to collapse or even suffer a major crisis. No matter who wins, getting ethnic/religious/political minorities in their coalition will, to some extent, be necessary. Sunnis and Shiites alike will be represented in the ruling coalition of the government--the question is really only "how much?" And frankly, the Sunnis should be used to being a minority representative (but if they are a key player in the coalition, then they have virtual veto power), and the Shiites are unlikely to begin slaughtering Sunnis or Kurds if they cannot hold an election despite a 60% majority--most reports are that losing parties are likely to sit back and reconsider their election strategies.

In fact, a tough and indecisive election while US troops still remain may be an excellent low-pressure opportunity for the Iraqi political system to learn how to deal with gridlock, with toss-up. For it will, indeed, come again, and next time, nobody will be there to help sort out the cards.

But if it should succeed, then the day may be won for the United States in a more significant way than anyone imagined since the naive days of 2003. The embarrassingly premature "Mission Accomplished" banner might possibly be unfurled, correctly this time, 7 years after its original debut.
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