The parliamentary elections in Iraq represent the conclusion of one of the most successful processes from tyranny to pluralism in historyby Bartle Bull / January 22, 2006 / Leave a comment
>With the election on 15th December of a new four-year national parliament, Iraqis have concluded one of the most successful constitutional processes in history. Rarely, if ever, before has an important country moved from tyranny to pluralism so quickly, with so little bloodshed, and with such a quality and degree of popular participation.
As in Iraq last January, and in Afghanistan five months before that, the current allegations of electoral improprieties will soon enough be sifted into two piles: legitimate complaints that an electoral commission will resolve, and posturing by the losers. Then Iraq’s elites will sit down to share out the nation’s government according to the electoral strength of its various communities. Once this happens, the popularity of Iraq’s new constitution (approved by 80 per cent of voters in October’s referendum) and the similarly singular scale of voter turnout in this election (above 70 per cent, according to preliminary estimates) will present the world with an Iraqi government enjoying a degree of legitimacy that is peerless in the middle east and unsurpassed globally. Such an achievement—in the context of a national psyche brutalised by 30 years of sectarian totalitarianism, the presence of 170,000 foreign soldiers, and highly politicised ethnic and confessional divides—is uniquely impressive.
Having spent the January election season living on various floors in the huge Baghdad slum of Sadr City, I decided to spend the latest election period with the other major Iraqi demographic group that, having suffered most under the rule of the Ba’ath party, now has the most to gain from the new freedom: the Kurds. (The Marsh Arabs suffered perhaps worst of all under the Ba’athists, but with a population of about 20,000 are barely electorally significant compared to the Kurds or the Shia urban poor.)
What I saw in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan regional government, was dancing in the streets. At one polling station, an 18-year old called Shko told me, “This is the biggest day of my life.” Shko is from Halabja, scene of the most infamous gas attacks of the Ba’athists’ late-1980s Anfal campaign against the Kurds. He lost an uncle, an aunt and several cousins to Saddam’s mustard gas. “Now we feel like we are in our own Kurdistan country,” he said, echoing the heavily Kurdish nationalist tone of popular election day sentiments here.
If Kurdish enthusiasm for a nationwide political process is itself something for the rest of…