Iraq elections: democratic delusion?

I am by no means an expert on Iraqi politics, but it strikes me how much it still divides the Comentariat. Even at the LSE, we have three quite striking stances on the recent Iraqi elections in the last few weeks.

On the one hand Fawaz Gerges, LSE Professor of International Relations, writing in the Majalla, says:

Far from making Iraq ripe for democracy, the 2003 US-led invasion has established a sectarian-based political system like neighboring Lebanon where sect and ethnicity trump other loyalties, including the nation. Now sectarianism has become deeply entrenched and institutionalized, threatening the national unity and integrity of Iraq. On the whole, Iraqis did not vote according to party and ideology but tribe and sect.

Supporting this largly negative picture, Tody Dodge, Research Associate at LSE IDEAS, writes today in the guardian:

The ramifications of the 7 March vote are still unfolding and are starting to look much less positive than Obama had hoped…The idea that elections are the be-all and end-all of democracy is naive at best. At worst they are a shallow and unsustainable justification for the carnage that followed invasion and regime change. Iraq’s new ruling elite was brought back to the country by US and British troops; they are now presiding over a country that has repeatedly gone to the polls but received precious little beyond politically motivated violence, widespread corruption and now a flagrant disregard for the rule of law by their elected politicians.

Yet in contrast Ranj Alaaldin, PhD Candidate in LSE International History dept., also in the guardian sees more success:

Granted the whole thing is messy and at times complicated. And it is, for Iraqis, disappointingly the case that there is no one party – either Shia or Sunni, secular or sectarian – that has a significant cross-sectarian appeal. However, let us not ask too much from Iraqis just yet. What is important is that there is progress in Iraqi democracy and politics. You now have both splits in the Shia, Kurdish and Sunni votes, as well as an open-list system that has punished underperforming officials, like those from the interior and defence ministries.

Combined together, they set Iraq’s democratic process miles ahead of its neighbours and exceed the honest expectations of the international community. Iraq does not have the perfect democracy, but it has a functioning and genuine democracy.

I suppose that as horse-trading in Baghdad continues, so will such debates…

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