Iraq elections on March 7: high stakes, shaky hopes
Recent bombings underscore the perilousness of the Iraq elections on March 7, and the consequences for the US and the Middle East. Still, the general trend has been positive, and that's encouraging.
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President Obama also needs the withdrawal for political reasons. It was a campaign promise – and a strategy to force Iraq to come to grips with its problems. Still, the Pentagon says it has a contingency plan to keep combat troops in northern Iraq beyond Sept. 1, 2010.Skip to next paragraph
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How Iraq develops also has implications for the Middle East. Iraq is inching toward democracy in a largely autocratic region. If its crawl develops into a walk, it could positively influence populations in the neighborhood – and frighten their leaders. In the coin of the realm – oil – Iraq could reach Saudi output in a decade, greatly influencing markets.
But the front-burner concern for the region and the US is how Iraq will deal with Iran and its nuclear ambitions. President Hussein, a Sunni, warred against Shiite Iran. Now Iran has influence with the leaders of Iraq’s majority Shiite population. And yet, exerting influence is not the same as changing outcomes, and so far, it hasn’t been able to do that. Indeed, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki put down a Shiite militia with close ties to Iran.
So much remains to be done in the fledgling democracy of Iraq. And yet, the continuum of recent years offers some grounds for hope.
The Iraqi people – often far ahead of its leaders – are thoroughly fed up with terrorism and sectarian division. They turned against Al Qaeda and restrained retaliatory impulses, which helped the US troop surge of 2007-08 succeed. In provincial elections last year, they looked down on parties that organized themselves along sectarian or religious lines.
Indeed, in this election cycle, cross-sectarian alliances are gaining popularity as competition has emerged within groups, such as among the Kurds. In 2005, the Sunnis boycotted the national election. This time – despite a ban on some of their candidates – they’re expected to go to the polls. Meanwhile, important issues, such as corruption, have taken on greater importance.
Despite violence and drawn-out political haggling, the Iraqi parliament actually passed 50 bills in the last year, including a budget. Some institutions, such as the military and judiciary, are slowly gaining respect, and the country has a vociferous media. Women, too, are asserting themselves – in politics and elsewhere.
Many expect combative politics in the months ahead. Iraq may well veer off in a very worrisome direction. But while this country does not fly straight, so far, it’s still aloft and moving forward. Considering where it’s come from, that’s reason for encouragement.
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