Examining the state of Iraq's democracy

Only eight candidates for office were murdered during this year's campaigning, down from 200 in 2005
By ANDISHEH NOURAEE  |  February 23, 2009

Why don't people laugh out loud, or at least guffaw, when they hear about US troops overseas assisting elections? Too many US states and municipalities have dysfunctional voting systems for us to be proudly tutoring anyone else.

Three months after the November 2008 elections, Minnesota still doesn't have a second US senator. Yet we have 140,000-or-so troops in Iraq who just spent much of their January helping that country carry out its provincial elections.

Iraq's January 30 provincial council elections proceeded relatively smoothly. According to The Economist, only eight candidates for office were murdered during campaigning. That's down from a whopping 200 candidates murdered during 2005's provincial elections. That's change I can believe in.

The same publication reports that there were foreign election monitors in each of the 712 local districts where voting took place. How many of them were from Minnesota? I'm not sure. I am sure, however, that in 2005 Iraq was too violent to host any foreign election monitors.

Who won?
Thanks to a complicated allocation system, the final tally of who got which council seat won't be determined for a couple more weeks. But the popular vote counted so far gives us a decent picture idea of who won where.

Despite widespread Internet rumors that its top leaders are Muslim, the Dawa Party of Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had the most success.

The New York Times characterized Dawa's win as "overwhelming," but, in fact, the party didn't win a majority anywhere. Dawa did best in large, urban, majority Shi'ite cities: the capital, Baghdad, and Iraq's largest southern city, Basra.

Dawa is Iraq's oldest Islamist political party. Don't be thrown off by the fact that Maliki wears a suit instead of a turban. His party wants to establish an Islamic Republic of Iraq that has close, happy relations with its large neighbor, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Maliki himself is a pal of the US, but his party's leanings are unmistakable.

Outside the big Shi'ite cities, Dawa's results were good, but not as impressive. In less urban Shi'ite areas, they split the vote more closely with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the movement of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

With a bushel of parties running more than 14,000 candidates for 440 seats, it makes more sense to think of the election in terms of big trends as opposed to individual winners.

Iraq's trend of voting along pretty strict religious lines continued. Shi'ites vote for Shi'ites, Sunnis vote for Sunnis.

Among Shi'ites, there was a shift toward parties who want a strong central government, in contrast to 2005, when Shi'ite politicians who wanted to create a Shi'ite Mini-raq in the south of the country did well.

Another interesting result: Sunni Muslim voters largely rejected Islamist candidates. After years of being told by Bush & Co. that Sunni areas of Iraq were vulnerable to an al-Qaeda takeover, this election proves once and for all that Iraq's Sunnis have little interest in fundamentalism, let alone fundamentalist terrorism.

How does any of this affect us?
The fact that the elections weren't exceptionally violent means Obama will probably be able to speed up the US withdrawal of troops.

It also reinforces Iran's strength in the region. The Iraq war removed Iran's biggest regional rival (Saddam Hussein) and replaced it with an ally.

This article first appeared in Creative Loafing, Atlanta's alternative newsweekly.

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