Iraq: A Dangerously Different Democracy


December 25, 2005: Old habits die hard in Iraq. The Sunni Arabs are claiming voting fraud during the December 15th parliamentary elections. There may be some truth to their accusations, but the basic problem is that there has been no census for years, and many Sunni Arabs believe they are the majority in Iraq, or at least in their particular corner of the country. These Sunni Arabs expected the heavy turnout by Sunni Arabs would put the Sunni Arabs back in control of the country. This sort of wishful thinking is common in Iraq. While this sort of thing can be comforting while living in a dictatorship, a harmless diversion from grim reality, it doesn't work in a democracy.

But Iraqis don't all live in a democracy, not quite yet. The old ways, of the "big man" (and his intimidating henchmen) are still widely practiced. In the north, the two Kurdish factions keep the peace, and maintain unity, with armed men, and insistence on political unity. For the moment, most Kurds are happy to be free of Arab domination. But don't anyone seriously think about getting the two most powerful families out of power. "Kurdistan" may be voting, but tribal chiefs are calling the shots. The democrats up north believe that, over time, they can ease the traditional families out of power. But that hasn't happened yet, and may take a while, a long while.

Down south, most political power comes out of the barrel of a gun. Sunni Arab factions are more frequently fighting each other to determine whose guns will have the last word. While the majority of Sunni Arabs may be "moderates," that's a synonym for "powerless." Any leader without a crew of ruthless gunmen behind him is just pretending. Things are not much different in the Shia Arab south. The Islamic radicals in the south have the additional advantage of getting cash and advice from the Islamic radicals who run Iran. Like their Sunni Arab brethren, the gunmen terrorize those who do not appear Islamic enough. That involves persecuting the few percent of Iraqis who are not Moslem. This is an embarrassment for the government, for these victims are largely Christians, from some of the oldest communities in the country. Many of these minorities sent many migrants to the West, and those overseas communities have been making lots of noise about the persecution.

The new parliament, which will be formed over the next three months, will be the result of deals made by dozens of tribal and political warlords. The Iraqi population is still heavily armed, and the government risks widespread rebellion if they tried to disarm all those civilians. In the best of times, all of the armed factions can negotiate a deal for dividing up the goodies (especially the oil income) and achieving a semblance of peace. Democracy in a form recognizable to an American, European or Indian, is not going to happen any time soon in Iraq. While it's true that every democracy is different, the one in Iraq is dangerously so.

A Sunni Arab terrorist group is threatening to kill a Jordanian they kidnapped on the 20th, unless the Jordanian government cuts all ties with Iraq, and releases a Sunni Iraqi female suicide bomber they had arrested. Jordan responded by sending a counter-terror commando team to Iraq. Since the al Qaeda suicide bombing attacks in Jordan last month, Jordanian public opinion has shifted from pro, to anti-al Qaeda. Threatening to kill a kidnapped Jordanian truck driver is not changing this new attitude. Worse yet, it's gotten much harder for Iraqis in particular, and Islamic terrorists in particular, to get across the Jordanian border. For decades, it was easy to get across, but no more. Now, all those orders from the Jordanian government to tighten border security are being observed with some enthusiasm. With American and Iraqi troops on the Syrian border, and angry Jordanians blocking their frontier, the two most convenient refuges for Islamic terrorists have been severely restricted. But that's not the only reason the number of bombings has declined so much lately. The bomb builders are running out of explosives. Over a tear of searching for, finding and destroying Saddams munitions stockpiles has had an effect. Many of the explosions you hear in Iraq are not terrorist bombs, but American EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) troops getting rid of another lot of shells and bombs. The bomb builders have been forced to make their own explosives, which are much less powerful than the professional stuff they had access to for over two years.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close