Monday, January 10, 2005

Iraq elections and expectations

One of the things that has become apparent to me is that we in the US keep trying to describe the situation in Iraq in black and white terms - everyone on one or the other side with no extras or other conflicts. That tends to influence several expectations of what happens both for the vote and for after the vote come the end of this month. The problem for many casual forecasters, then, starts with the fact that the binary solution is wrong.

There are a multitude of groups with conflicting goals in a variety of areas. The groups are internal and external. Most of the goals deal with who will control Iraq in the future - and the goals are both trying to get "our" group in charge and ensuring "that" group does NOT have a voice. The groups are religious and sectarian; tribal and ethnic and multicultural; for and against the US, Iran, and Turkey (including voices directly from each of those groups) as well as other nations; and for and against al Qaeda and its ilk. Yes, this means there are groups that are pro-Iran, pro-Shia, anti-al Qaeda. Some - indeed, MOST - of the groups prefer words to bullets. Some, however, believe bullets more effective than words, and their effect has certainly not been invisible.

Now, one more thing to keep in mind about the situation is just what the vote is selecting. It is not, truly, the governing body of Iraq, though it will act as such for its duration. Instead, the gathering to be assembled has one primary mission - to write a constitution to be put before the people of the nation for ratification no later than October of this year. For the US folk, the best comparison is the Continental Congress of 1776 - the one that produced the articles of Confederation (or rather, which had Dickinson write the one they adopted in 1777). Except instead of getting ratification four or five years later after the war is complete, we're asking it to be ratified within a few months.

And all that leads to my expectations in regard to the elections.

First, there will not be comprehensive representation. Four of the 18 provinces are presently so disrupted that we (the US) do not expect to be able to get votes from those provinces. The fact that approximately 40% of the total population lives in those provinces, and that the near totality of two general interest groups (Baathist-related tribes and non-Kurdish Sunna religious interest) makes it highly unlikely those elements will get a voice in the process. Using US history as an example, a reasonable comparison would be to have had the Continental Congress not include the voices of New York, Maryland and Virginia.

This leads to the second expectation. As there will be a significant proportion of the population believing they are not represented, they will have little support for the process. With lack of support but desire of representation, they'll be more willing to support the agents who claim to be providing their voices. In short, I do not expect a decrease, and would be unsurprised to see an increase in insurgent violence. Now I can see this short-circuited -- Sistani appears to be trying to do so by insisting that even if Sunni and Baathist groups are not represented due to the elections their voices should still be heard. If he (and others making similar speeches) follows through with this in clear fashion, it will keep the disruption down.

My third expectation, however, is one many in the US will find difficult to swallow. I expect the government to ask the US to leave. I expect them to do so by speaking to the UN and making this request. There are a number of citizens of the US who would be willing to leave if Iraq asks who will find it difficult to accept the voice going through the UN. Oh, there'll be a fair number in the US willing to pull out regardless. And there are some who will be resistant to leaving regardless of who asks. But I expect much noise and yet another tension point if and when Iraq requests the departure through the rule of law. Yet it's a logical outgrowth of the elections if they succeed.

And I do expect the elections to succeed in producing a national assembly with the goal of producing a national constitution. I just don't see that becoming a magic wand that causes all to be well.


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