Iraq: Learning the art of democracy?



  • 18 Jul: Suicide bomber kills 43 in attack on government-backed Sunni militia in Radwaniya near Baghdad
  • 7 Jul: Series of bombings targeting Shia pilgrims attending festival in Baghdad leave more than 40 people dead
  • 20 Jun: 26 killed in twin suicide car bombings close to bank in Baghdad
  • 21 May: Car bombing kills 30 at market in Khalis, Diyala province
  • 10 May: 100 killed in a series of shootings and suicide bombings, including 45 in Hilla, Babil province
  • 23 Apr: 58 killed in wave of bombings in Baghdad
  • 4 Apr: Triple suicide car bombings near embassies in Baghdad kill 41
  • 26 Mar: 40 killed by two bombs in Khalis, Diyala province
  • 7 Mar: 35 killed in attacks across the country on election day

Source:  BBC

The idea of building democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a pillar of neo-con foreign policy, which rode the roller coaster ride of George W. Bush’s unpopularity down, down, down, is perhaps not dead yet in Iraq, even though the Obama administration will be pulling American troops out this year and next.  At what cost democracy is a fair question, but the NYTimes reported today that one Moktada al-Sadr, the fiery anti-American Shia militia leader, may be learning the art of negotiation and compromise so central to a working democracy.  Those who rise to the top of authoritarian systems often have authoritarian personalities, whereas those who rise to the top of democracies are consummate deal-makers, such as Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and even Mitch McConnell and John McCain.

Iraq’s 325-seat parliament is divided, making it difficult for the political parties there to form a government.  The BBC reports that today 43 Sunnis were killed by a suicide bomber, as part of the increased post-election violence threatening to spiral back into the civil war that dissipated in recent years, thanks to the American surge, General Petraeus’s anti-insurgency program, and brave decisions by Sunni insurgents to boot out al-Qaeda.  The BBC chart above catalogues the suicide bombings since the March election that have affected both Sunnis and Shia.

A government requires 163 seats.  Ayad Allawi’s largely Sunni coalition (though Allawi is a secular Shia) won 91 seats, as against Prime Minister Maliki’s 89 seats for his Shia bloc.  The Shia Sadrists hold 39 seats, making the at-times radical cleric a potential kingmaker, and he knows it.  Secular, but not-so-nice Syrian President Assad brokered a meeting between Allawi and Sadr in Damascus, with Sadr traveling from exile in Iran for the meeting (there is an arrest warrant in Iraq from 2004 outstanding against Sadr).  Not only do the parties have to negotiate and compromise with one another, but they also must acquiese to at least some of the desires of regional powers, especially Iran.  America has a say as well, albeit declining.

Have these fellas, fighting a bloody ethnic war for control of this strategic and oil-rich country not long ago, really learned the art of democracy?  Time will tell, but Sadr’s trip to Damascus is a good sign.

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