Determining the Real Results of the Iraqi Election
March 8, 2010
Iraq has accomplished a milestone in holding a true national election in which every major ethnic group and sect took part. At the same time, there is good reason for caution. It is all too easy to congratulate a nation on its elections, and to forget that even the best election is meaningless unless it is followed by effective political leadership and effective governance. Elections do not solve problems or give a government real legitimacy. Only addressing the needs of its citizens and solving a nation’s problems can make a government truly legitimate.
It is critical, therefore, to understand what Iraq must now do to succeed, and just how long it will take to determine whether the elections have produced lasting success.
- First, Iraq must demonstrate that these elections do not follow the path of corruption and manipulation that took place in Iran and Afghanistan. This is not going to be easy. The election was partially rigged before it took place by removing more than 500 candidates from the ballot, including large numbers of Sunnis whose ties to the Ba'ath Party were purely expedient and who were removed with pressure from figures like Ahmed Chalibi with at least indirect pressure from Iran. Maliki has to accept at least some blame for endorsing this effort to exclude Sunni figures and rig the election before it occurred. Moreover, there have already been charges of printing surplus ballots, manipulating the polling places, and possible ballot stuffing. Following the election day violence, there is a critical need for the kind of transparency that shows the election really was largely honest, and that the results can be trusted. This is particularly true because the integrity of the Election Commission has been challenged, and the election has already been tainted by delays and manipulation of the De-Ba'athification laws, as well as Maliki's sudden pre-election announcement that some 20,000 Sunnis would now be allowed to join the security services.
- Second, Iraq must now show it can form a government that can both support political accommodation and govern effectively – and do so as soon as possible. Arab and Kurdish tensions are dangerously high, Sunni and Shi'ite relations are uncertain, and intra-Shiite feuds can add to the problem. Iraq badly needs a national government, free of ties to Iran, that will fairly represent every major faction in the country. Iraq’s newly elected leaders need to show that they agree in making a clear commitment to political accommodation, and that they will act on their words. Effective governance is an equal challenge. Iraq's industrial and agricultural sectors are in a critical stage in terms of employment and economic development, and important ministries like education and health must be rescued from near collapse. Additionally, some three million externally and internally displaced persons need homes and jobs. The past budget crisis needs to be dealt with, key economic and infrastructure projects need to be funded, and a year of budget and manpower freezes -- that have crippled much of the progress in developing the Iraqi security forces – require immediate action. There is no time to waste. US troops are set to draw down to 50,000 men and women late this summer, and US and other international aid is down to minimal levels. Even under the best conditions, the new government cannot make a solid start until late 2010 and its success will not be clear until 2011.
- Third, Iraq must do much more than simply make a new start. The election will only be successful if the new government actually passes the oil laws, investment laws, and tax laws necessary to allow the new oil contracts to function and provide Iraq with critically needed income. Investment laws need further the progress that has already been made in securing foreign investment. Effective security forces are needed to protect oil pipelines and other major projects. The new government needs to show it can sharply reduce corruption and use its revenues honestly and effectively. It must create an economic development plan for its entire term in office. It must create Iraqi security forces that can really replace all US forces when they withdraw by the end of 2011, and it must show Iraqis that it is on the path to creating forces that can fully defeat the insurgency and defend Iraq against its neighbors. It must transform the police from security forces that deal more with internal violence than crime to true police forces that will enforce the rule of law. It also must show that the new provincial powers and funding laws actually work, and help Iraqis deal with sectarian and ethnic problems. At some point in the next two to three years, Iraq's Kurds, Arabs and other minorities must also show they can solve the problems of the disputed territories and oil development in the north -- a band of territory that extends from Mosul to Kirkuk to the Iranian border. Moreover, Iraq's government must balance Iranian pressure and influence by showing that its Strategic Framework Agreement with the United States still applies and providing security from Iranian threats and intimidation. It must also reach out to the Arab world without alienating Iran, and reassure Iraq's Sunni neighbors in the Gulf. A time frame of 2014 to 2015 for all of these actions is ambitious to say the least, but Iraq's new government cannot remain stable unless it makes real progress in every area within this period.
In short, Iraq's insurgency may now be largely over, and its new oil deals may offer it the future income necessary to develop and deal with one of the youngest and most rapidly growing populations in the world. The election, however, is at best a prelude to a critical half decade in which Iraq's newly elected officials must show they can actually succeed in meeting the nation's needs. Success will be measured by their actions in the years to come, and not by the fact they were elected.