The election showed Iraq is making progress—though not in the way America might chooseby Alice Fordham / March 24, 2010 / Leave a comment
Iraq’s vital oilfields: but will the wealth that flows from them be well spent?
There is an Iraqi poem that begins: “They say that politics is an art form/But our politics are slaughter and terrorism.” When Iraq went to the polls on 7th March, for its second full parliamentary election since the 2003 invasion, the politics involved were far from artistic. But an optimist might find cautious reason to think it has moved beyond its lowest moments.
That these elections would happen at all was never guaranteed. They were postponed for months after electoral laws stalled on how to deal with the disputed city of Kirkuk—which sits on plenty of oil, and is claimed by the northern Kurds. The run-up was marred not just by violence, but also by a witch-hunt that disqualified hundreds of candidates for alleged links to Saddam’s Baathist regime. In the days after the vote, partial results dripped out amid malfunctioning screens, long delays and crowds of angry journalists at the electoral commission’s office in Baghdad. Claims of fraud from all sides were given some credence by leaked official reports of widespread (if unsystematic) irregularities.
But despite the messiness, and a bomb in Baghdad that killed at least 38 on election day, 62 per cent of the population turned out—almost the same as Britain in 2005—sparking a tight race between the incumbent Nouri al-Maliki and his State of Law Coalition, and his predecessor Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya list, whose campaign preached secularism. Neither ever looked likely to win the 51 per cent of seats required for a majority, so the long process of coalition formation was well underway even as the votes were being counted.
Iraqis often say they are disillusioned with politics, and cynical of a democracy they see as a priority primarily for the occupying force. Since 2005, they note, the government has failed to provide reliable electricity or water, and they still live in a country Transparency International dubs the world’s fourth most corrupt. Al-Maliki had won some legitimacy for improvements in security; gains undermined in the past six months with a series of spectacular bombings on high-profile targets in Baghdad.
But the high voter turnout, braving danger and disorganisation, while courageous, does not mean that the whole nation is pinning its hopes on a democratic future. Given the choice between organised security and democracy, many Iraqis, exhausted and bereaved, would choose the…