What Passes for Normal in Iraq
Arab leaders everywhere, take note: It's likely that the interim president of largely Arab Iraq will not be Arab.Skip to next paragraph
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That's just one amazing twist expected from the results of Iraq's Jan. 30 election being released this week - one that sends a message to the Middle East that democracy can lead to the kind of persuasion and compromise that's badly needed in a region mainly run by force and dictate.
Iraq's election is bringing other surprises as well:
• Radicals who want clerics to rule lost badly in the election - a sign that Iraqis have learned well from the negative example next door in Iran.
• A welcoming hand is being extended by the winning Shiite parties to the group that largely didn't vote, the minority Sunnis, to help write the nation's constitution.
• The most pro-American group, the Kurds, won enough seats to become the key power broker and force the Shiite parties to woo them as a partner to form a necessary two-thirds majority in the legislative assembly. (Thus, a Kurd may be chosen as president.)
• For the first time, freely elected Iraqi leaders are engaging in political negotiations in which no one really knows the final outcome.
• All winning parties appear committed to the concept that Iraq need not be run by one group holding absolute power, and that strong minority interests should be respected.
• Despite the presence of 130,000 American troops in Iraq and the spending of billions of dollars by the US, the Bush administration appears to have little influence in the back-room talks over who will be selected as president and prime minister.
All this shows how elections can bring moderation to a divided society. Iraq isn't a full democracy yet - the assembly's main task is to write the constitution that will lead to another election. And Iraqi leaders still must work hard to quell the Sunni insurgents, and find a role for Islamic values - all the while avoiding a collapse of the nascent government.
But Iraqis are in charge of Iraq now and, so far, they're beating expectations.