March 16, 2005 | Graham

Tower of Babel shows democracy alive in Iraq

The Iraqi Parliament is due to sit today and the parties still haven’t managed to form a government – that’s a good sign.
Much of the Australian commentary on the Iraqi elections, including a number of articles published in On Line Opinion, is prefaced on a belief that the US has imposed democracy on Iraq and that the resulting elections are a sham that will result in a client US state.
That there is confusion in Iraq and hard negotiations that appear almost like squabbling confutes both these criticisms, as demonstrated by this article on the Financial Times site, or this on News Limited’s site.
The thesis that democracy was somehow imposed rests on the assumption that Saddam Hussein’s regime had legitimacy and that Iraqis would prefer not to determine their own future. As these tough negotiations demonstrate, the Iraqis are just as adept at democracy as the rest of us. It’s human nature, not US edict, that makes us want to rule our own destinies.
Of course, we should have known this all along – the Kurdish state in the north of the country has been practising democracy ever since the allied bombing campaign freed them from Saddam Hussein. There were no Western troops on the ground forcing them to run a democracy, they did it spontaneously.
The client state argument also fails. Nowhere in these reports, or anywhere else that I have seen, is there any mention of the US strong-arming the political participants to accept a particular outcome. Its very confusion demonstrates that the democracy is real.
Much of the hard negotiating is dictated by the fact that the new government needs to be ratified by a 75% majority of the parliament, but after that only needs 50% plus one to pass its legislation. This is the best time for the Kurds, who have a blocking vote of 77 seats out of 275, to extract guarantees and concessions. Once the government is ratified the Kurds’ power diminishes.
The news stories may also over-state the case as to how tough the negotiations are. All the major spokesmen appear to be conscious of the need to be inclusive of all Iraqis. For the country to become functional, the insurgency has to be stopped. That means that the vast majority of Sunnis will need to be convinced that they can achieve more for themselves via political means rather than violence. Leaving them anyone out of government in Iraq is not an option.

Posted by Graham at 4:57 am | Comments (3) |


  1. It will be interesting to see how the government deals with water, electricity and fuel shortages and of course the insurgency.
    Graham, do you have a link to an article about who the insurgents are and why they continue to terrorise most violently? I am really puzzled as to why they continue the violence as there is nothing for them to gain anymore.

    Comment by Benno — March 18, 2005 @ 8:01 am

  2. Benno,
    No, I don’t have any links, but there are some estimates around as to how many insurgents there are, some putting them even as high as 200,000 – more than the total US presence – so a google search should turn something up for you.
    I grit my teeth when I use the term insurgent, as some proportion of them is actually foreign fighters pursuing bin Laden’s agenda. Others are undoubtedly embittered members of the former Baathist Army which was disbanded by the US. Some of these may merely be out for revenge, while others will be trying to deal themselves into a stronger position on their side of politics.
    Remember Moqtada el Sadr and the Mahdi army? This was more or less a positioning exercise for el Sadr within Shi’ite politics. Once he was included in the politics the army went away.
    Some others appear to be trying to foment a civil war on the basis that they will be able to seize power if the country descends into chaos – a traditional path to power for military dictators. These would appear to be attempting to achieve their aim by discouraging people from joining the police force and army and also by trying to antagonise the Shias so that they take up arms and hit back. However, the imams appear to be awake to this last gambit and despite funeral parties etc. being blown up by suicide bombers, the Shia are holding firm – they know they have the numbers now, but that a civil war could change that very easily.
    One should also allow that a large proportion may not be acting for entirely rational reasons at all. Look at what happened in Macquarie Fields. Boredom, and no chance of a better life can lead people to perpetrate ultimately self-destructive behaviours.

    Comment by Graham Young — March 18, 2005 @ 10:28 am

  3. Thats a very good explanation Graham and the parallel to Mac fields is a good one. I hadn’t even considered political reasons before, or attempts to win a civil war, that would be possible if enough Coalition soldiers died initially to force the US troops out.
    I have another question however, do you think the Bush administration has been incompetent by not predicting the scale of the insurgiency and countering it appropriately? Media reports say that they aren’t in satisfactory control of many parts of the Sunni triangle, inlcuding the town of Tikrit.
    Generally I think the big questions about Iraq are not the ethics of it or the lies told by governments, but whether or not the war was and is conducted with complete incompetence, or perhaps only partial incompetence.
    In my opinion NATO (Clinton) conducted its Kosovo campaign with gross incompetence.

    Comment by Benno — March 19, 2005 @ 4:54 pm

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