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Iraq After The Elections

By Robert Dreyfuss

29 March, 2010
The Nation

It's tempting to point to the March 7 elections in Iraq as a sign that an American-fostered democracy has put down roots in that shattered nation. But the reality is different. Despite signs that many Iraqis are disenchanted with ethnic and sectarian politics and long for a secular and nationalist Iraq, the vote still broke sharply along communal lines, leaving simmering and potentially violent divisions unhealed. Virtually all Kurds voted for Kurdish parties in the three northern provinces and in the multiethnic border provinces that straddle the Arab-Kurdish line. Nearly all Sunnis voted en bloc for the coalition led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite who appealed broadly to disenfranchised Sunnis, supporters of the former Baath Party, and Arab and Iraqi nationalists opposed to Iran's influence. And the vast majority of Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of the electorate, voted either for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who leads the secretive Shiite religious Dawa Party, or for an even more fervent Shiite religious bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), put together in Iran last year, whose leaders include Muqtada al-Sadr's movement, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and Ahmad Chalabi.

Not only is Iraq still split along communal lines; the aftermath of the election has renewed concerns that those divisions could escalate into violence, even civil war, during the coalition-building, likely to drag on for many months. With nearly all the votes counted, the rival blocs led by Maliki and Allawi are evenly matched, with each expected to get about ninety seats in the 325-member National Assembly. The Kurds will accumulate about fifty seats, and the Shiite-religious INA perhaps seventy.

In a more politically mature nation--say, one whose polity was not destroyed by US invasion, subsequent insurgency and then several years of horrendous civil war--the politicians who lead those blocs could form a coalition. But in Iraq a peaceful outcome is not at all certain. The Kurds and the INA have powerful paramilitary forces, and Maliki has shown he is prepared to use the security forces to do his bidding. And Sunnis, many of whom supported the 2003-07 insurgency, could rebel again. Even if the worst is avoided in the immediate future, Iraqi politics is a Rubik's cube of which it's hard to imagine a stable, ruling alliance forming the necessary majority in the National Assembly.

Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, and Mother Jones.

Copyright © 2009 The Nation


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