Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Iraqi Election

I haven't posted about this yet, so I guess it's time to do so. Here's my take.

The elections, by all accounts, went well. The turnout amongst the Kurds and Shiites, I have heard, approached 60%.

As expected, the Sunnis did not turn out at a very high rate, though whether this is because they were boycotting the election or were just frightened is difficult to determine at this point (since the insurgents are mostly Sunnis, the areas where the Sunnis live are the most dangerous in Iraq).

However, in advance of the election, Alawi (is that the right spelling?), the interim Iraqi leader, made it clear that Sunnis would have a place at the table when the new Iraqi constitution is written by the newly-elected assembly, even if the Sunnis end up underrepresented in the assembly. Alawi hopes to keep Sunnis from feeling, right off the bat, that they have been frozen out of the political process. I don't know if that strategy is going to work, but if you are going to go ahead and hold elections before the insurgency is contained, it is probably the best way to go. And the credit must be given to the Bush regime, as I am fairly certain he does nothing that he isn't told to do.

Around 44 people died on election day in Iraq, fewer than the number of people who die of heatstroke at Six Flags over Texas on a Saturday in August, so that's pretty good compared to what could have happened.

But, it must be noted that this relatively violence-free result took place on a day in which Iraq was under, for all intents and purposes, martial law. The nation was completely shut down, with the shops closed and all modern means of transportation forbidden -- no buses, no cars, no planes, nothing. Just walking. And all kinds of police and military (read: US Marines) around, tons of check points, and all that jazz.

So, while the level of violence was pretty low, it does give pause that such draconian measures were required. The Bush regime is claiming that the low violence rate is an indication of improvement in Iraq. I will not discount this claim out of hand, but I will not accept it either. I'm not sure if a safe election held under martial law tells us anything other than that the insurgents decided that discretion is the better part of valor on that day. But I don't know yet. Neither does Bush. Though I hate to do it, I will give the regime the benefit of the doubt on this, though I suspect the worst is yet to come.

The high turnout rate amongst the Kurds and Shiites is being touted as indication that the Iraqis were "thirsty" for democracy. Maybe. I'm not sure that it is democracy that the Kurds and Shiites want. I think it might be just that, after 30 years of oppression under Saddam's Sunni regime, the Kurds and Shiites want power. And, since the US has occupied their country and insisted on a democratic government, they simply see democracy as the route to power right now. Whether the Shiites and the Kurds have any intention or desire of maintaining a democratic government once the US leaves is anyone's guess. My guess is no, but I could be wrong. So could Bush.

The important thing here is to give credit where credit is due, but not read too much into one day's events. I thought it was stupid to hold elections so soon and with so much of the country in the throes of insurgency and violence. But it worked, albeit with some fairly drastic measures. I was wrong. Bush was right.

But, an election does not democracy make. (I think someone on The Daily Show said that or something very close, so I can't take credit). Claiming success at this point is like saying you've grown a garden after just sowing the seeds. There's a lot more between here and picking tomatoes in the backyard, and the garden is by no means inevitable.

This was a good step. A surprisingly good step. But whether the election was a turning point or not is yet to be seen. I hope it was. I hope we can get out of Iraq before Barack Obama takes office in 2008.

But I fear that we haven't seen or heard the last of the insurgents. And, as Haiti and many other examples prove, toppling a nascent democracy is an easy thing to do.

We'll see what happens.


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