‘Many challenges’ face Iraq after key elections

DUBAI — Elections are a means to an end and not an end in themselves, with the goal being to empower people to decide who will govern them. The US insistence on holding Iraq elections on January 30 turned the polls from a tool to a goal in themselves, said Dr Zafer Alani, Director of the Iraq Studies Programme at the Al Khaleej Research Centre.

By Hani M Bathish

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Published: Wed 9 Feb 2005, 10:17 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 7:29 PM

“All political parties in Iraq are in agreement over the need for democratic elections. The disagreement was over the timing of the elections. Iraq on election day was turned into a fortress; it was certainly not an atmosphere conducive to freedom of choice,” Dr Alani said while speaking at a seminar “Iraq After Elections” held at the Dubai Press Club on Monday.

He said that those who took part in elections and those who boycotted did so on religious or ethnic grounds rather than for political reasons. Religious agendas overcame political ones in a political climate where voters tended to identify political parties with individuals rather than the political platform they represent, he said, adding that such attitudes could serve to bring to power individuals that could see a return to the oppression of the past.

“The political process moved forward. What we have to focus on now is what comes next. No one wants to be in the government’s shoes as it has inherited many problems, the infrastructure is in tatters and many challenges lie ahead,” Dr Alani said, adding that disagreements among political parties, in some cases parties on the same electoral list, are beginning to surface as the struggle over the spoils of victory in elections begins.

He said that disagreements will likely be settled through compromise, with the prime minister likely to be a Shia Muslim, the president a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Kurd.

“Although many boycotted the elections, Sunnis from outside the transitional national council may be included in a committee to draft the constitution, the Sunni population cannot be ignored.

“If the government decides to use military force against the cities that resisted, it could result in a communal struggle as most of these cities are of Sunni faith and such action could ignite religious hatred,” Dr Alani said, adding that Fallujah did not ignite such communal hate because Najaf did not fare any better.

Referring to Shia factions’ insistence on Islam being the sole source of law and legislation for the country, Dr Alani wondered what Washington’s response would be to an “Ayatollah regime” taking hold in Iraq in place of the “Baath regime”. He referred to the idea of federalism in the south of the country as arm-twisting tactics used by Shia factions to “take a bigger share of the pie”.

He said resistance is likely to continue as the US has made Iraq the number one battlefield in the war against terrorism.

“Elections would never have taken place, nor would the US have considered giving Iraqis self rule in such a short time had it not been for the Iraqis ‘showing their claws’ through resistance,” Dr Alani said.

Dr Sabah Nahi, Deputy General Director of the Iraqi Journalists Association, sounded more optimistic about the future and saw elections in Iraq as a step towards democracy. He said that the situation in the country has been very tense since the occupation, describing the crisis in Iraq as the largest ever faced in Arab history.

He said that the tentative period of calm during the election period could serve to boost confidence in the Iraqi economy and put the country on the right track to paying off Iraq’s debts, estimated at $450 billion.

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