Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Helena Cobban on the Iraq elections

Anyone who thought the December 15 election would quickly resolve anything in Iraq's internal politics must be starting to feel disappointed. I listened with half an ear the other night as the US t.v. network ABC News declared "the Iraqi voters" to be their "Persons of the Year". The voice on the segment said all kind of saccharine things about how brave the Iraqi voters were, etc etc. Yes, many of them were very brave. But one election does not a democracy make-- and nor, either, do two elections and one referendum all held within a single year...

Democracy, after all, is centrally about the accountability of the government to the citizenry. We have not yet seen that happen inside the "New" Iraq-- and it looks extremely unlikely to be the outcome of the present, very complex negotiations going on in Baghdad. In all the accounts of the present government-formation discussions that I've read, US Ambassador Zal Khalilzad is portrayed as taking part in them in a very direct way: almost exactly like all those descriptions of the way British Viceroys used to conduct their affairs in the long-gone days of the British Raj in India.

That opening sets the tone for a good analysis by Helena Cobban of an event in Iraq being called an election. As a self-described optimist I hate to admit it, but I share her less than optimistic concerns. The post is about ten monitor screens long, but reflects a lot of homework on her part.

She refers to Juan Cole's comments which mention an important development outside the country referred to as Muram.

The Sunni fundamentalist National Accord Front, along with the secular NationalDialogue Council and the National Iraqiya list of Allawi, have planned a big demonstration in Baghdad for Tuesday. They, along with 39 other political parties and lists have formed an organization, the Conference for Rejection of the Fraudulent Elections, CRFE (Muram in Arabic). They charge that the Shiite fundamentalist coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, stole the election through electoral fraud. They also accused the IECI of not actually being an independent electoral commission, implying that it was serving Shiite interests.

The name speaks for itself. Helena Cobban sees Cole's take on the situation as unrealistic. On paper it reads well, but a look at everyday realities makes Cole's analysis appear too academic. I tend to agree. She comments...

After all, the main thing the Iraqi political system needs right now is internal and international legitimacy. The Maram pols are in a position to withhold that, at the internal level, and to cause serious complications to the regime's quest for it at the international level. Legitimacy, as I've come to understand it over the years, is an attribute of governments that is determined primarily at the internal, domestic level-- but in which the attitudes and policies of the "international community" can also play a strong role, and especially at times of intense political uncertainty and threat.

There's more. Anyone who cares to follow along should take a look.

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