the Disillusioned kid: After the Swingometer
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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

After the Swingometer

Iraq has had it's first real election in over half a century. The turnout was amazing. "Unbelievable" even. This is clearly a renunciation of the tactics of the resistance by the Iraqi people. As a result whether you were for or against the war "is air", all that matters now is whether you "are for or against democracy in Iraq." Or so they say.

The truth of course is much less clear and it's worth bearing mind that we've heard this all before.

Real questions remain about election irregularities across the country, which has led to a series of protests in several northern Iraqi cities. As important as such issues are, the experience of the US shows that election fraud is apparently insufficient to prevent an election being deemed "democratic" by those who make such decisions. This being the case, it might be more productive to focus on the more practical problems the elections raise.

It is likely, as I suggested prior to the elections, that the turnout has been much higher in Shia and Kurdish than in Sunni areas, which will likely skew the makeup of the "transitional assembly" which is to emerge from the elections. Officials from the United Iraq Alliance list endorsed by senior Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani are already saying they expect to claim half of the 275 seats in the assembly.

There are very serious questions about whether Sunnis who make up around 20% of the population in Iraq will respect this body if it comes to be dominated by Shias. Sunnis already appear to make up a large part of the armed groups currently operating in the country and this is only likely to increase if they feel disenfranchised by the elections and the assembly.

More worrying is the threat of ethnic strife if Sunnis come to identify the Shia as collaborators with the occupation they oppose by virtue of their participation in the assembly. It is my opinion that the threat of a civil war between the Sunnis and Shia has generally been overstated, because it serves the interests of the occupiers, but I think it is a threat which is increasing.

In April last year Sunni and Shia areas rebelled simultaneously as Fallujah and followers of Moqtada al-Sadr fought the Americans, openly declaring their solidarity with each other. By the time of the second attack on Fallujah in November the Shia remained largely silent as the US drove thousands from their homes and laid waste to the city.

Deliberately sectarian attacks by a minority of groups engaged in armed struggle (most notable followers of Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi) have not helped this development, but US strategy, which has become increasingly cosy with the Shia. Immediately after the invasion US planners were concerned that a Shia dominated Iraq might move towards Iran, a real threat in their eyes. However as the situation descended into chaos they seem to have decided that a de facto alliance with the Shia and Sistani is their best hope of maintaining control over the country, the Sunnis be damned.

Ironically, as Juan Cole notes, many of the Shia parties who have done well out of the election have close links to Iran and few would welcome a permanent US presence in the country. Indeed "most Shiites who voted on Sunday thought they were voting for an end to US hegemony in their country." The occupiers may yet find that their new best friends are not as loyal as they had hoped.

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