This weekend, Iraq completed their second set of provincial elections under a constitutional government. The elections have been largely peaceful and orderly, and early indications are that the secular Dawa coalition scored a major victory over the religious parties, who were perhaps seen as partially responsible for the violence of the past few years.
Some readers know that I supported the Iraq war all along. I've been wanting for years to post explaining why. Unfortunately, I never got around to it until now, when it doesn't really matter any more. I'm such a procrastinator, though, that if I only posted things that were still topical I'd never post - so I'll post this anyway.
My reasons go back to the Gulf War in 1991. At the end of that war, the U.S. established "no fly" zones in northern and southern Iraq where the Iraqi air force was not permitted to operate. We also encouraged popular uprisings in those areas. The Kurds in the north used this to obtain de facto independence. However, when a Shiite uprising occurred in the south, we refused to enforce the no fly zone there, and allowed Saddam Hussein's government to suppress it brutally.
In addition, the U.S. imposed sanctions against Iraq that prevented export of oil and prevented import of food or medicine. These sanctions resulted in severe suffering for the population of Iraq, and moreover provided an external enemy that Saddam Hussein could and did use to justify a far more oppressive government than he had previously run. The "oil for food" program was not sufficient to significantly alleviate the suffering, and merely allowed Hussein to tighten his grip further, since he controlled distribution of what limited imports were allowed.
So here we were, directly and indirectly causing suffering and oppression of the Iraqi people because of our differences with their government, yet sabotaging those people when they tried to get rid of that government. To me, that made the plight of the Iraqi people our problem.
By 2003, removal of Saddam Hussein's government had pretty much become the only way to resolve that problem. The actual removal of that government only took three weeks. However, stabilization of the country afterwards - which I think we also owed them - has taken six years, so far.
At this point, the democratic government of Iraq appears to be largely stable - and moreover, secular and tolerant of multiple ethnicities and religions. While there is still the opportunity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, it seems likely that Iraq will become a significant foreign policy success for the United States - and perhaps the first positive example of U.S. influence in the middle east since the Camp David accords in 1978.
Did the provincial elections make things worse?
I'm a bit confused by the rapturous reception across the board of the Iraqi provincial elections. I'm as delighted as everyone that the Iraqi provincial elections went off without major violence. But as I've been warning for many long months now, the dangerous part of the provincial elections comes when those groups who expected to win find out they didn't. Early signs are extremely concerning -- Anbar is under curfew after threats of violence, Diyala's outcome may signal a rapid escalation of Arab-Kurdish tensions, and that's not even looking at Baghdad.
The analysis in that article is limited to Anbar, which is a rather small proportion of Iraq, and is not the biggest threat to Iraqi stability.
The biggest threat is not the Sunni religious parties in Anbar, but the Shiite religious parties in other 90% of the country. The information I've seen from leaders of those parties is that they accept that they did poorly, and realize it's because they're seen as responsible for violence. Hopefully they'll draw the obvious conclusion that violence isn't the way to power for them.
Anbar is an area which hasn't really come under central government control; it's been left to the Sunni religious groups versus the Arab awakening groups up until now. In that light, the fact that it's the Iraqi military that is declaring the curfew is actually a positive sign, somewhat like the Iraqi military clearing the Shiite groups out of Basra a few months ago.
I note that his morning update apparently has the leader of the awakening party acknowledging a poor showing, which is a good sign.
Edited at 2009-02-03 05:54 pm (UTC)