Juan Cole reviews the events leading up to this election:
Worth remembering how far US policy has had to move, and how slowly. "The Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa
denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly "extremely offended" at these two demands and opposed Sistani. Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections
. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open, non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January 2005. This enormous delay allowed the country to fall into much worse chaos, and Sistani is still bitter that the Americans didn't hold the elections last May. The US objected that they couldn't use UN food ration cards for registration, as Sistani suggested. But in the end that is exactly what they did.
So if it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi, or would have had stage-managed elections with an electorate consisting of a handful of pro-American notables. It was Sistani and the major Shiite parties that demanded free and open elections and a UNSC resolution. They did their job and got what they wanted. But the Americans have been unable to provide them the requisite security for truly aboveboard democratic elections. ..
The Iraqis did not know the names of the candidates for whom they were supposedly voting. What kind of an election is anonymous! There were even some angry politicians late last week who found out they had been included on lists without their permission. Al-Zaman compared the election process to buying fruit wholesale and sight unseen. .. This thing was more like a referendum than an election. It was a referendum on which major party list associated with which major leader would lead parliament. .. this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan. ..
Many of the voters came out to cast their ballots in the belief that it was the only way to regain enough sovereignty to get American troops back out of their country. The new parliament is unlikely to make such a demand immediately, because its members will be afraid of being killed by the Baath military. One fears a certain amount of resentment among the electorate when this reticence becomes clear.
Iraq now faces many key issues that could tear the country apart, from the issues of Kirkuk and Mosul to that of religious law. James Zogby on Wolf Blitzer wisely warned the US public against another "Mission Accomplished" moment." 11:45:36 PM
Civil war scenario: Juan Cole outlines one way that civil war could emerge in Iraq. "Things could get worse if the US withdrew precipitously. .. The Baathists would begin by killing Grand Ayatollah Sistani, then Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, then Ibrahim Jaafari, and so on down the list of the new political class. Then they would make a coup. Once they had control of Iraq's revenues, they could buy tanks and helicopter gunships in the world weapons bazaar and deploy them again against the Shiites. They might not be able to hang on very long, but it is doubtful if the country would survive all this intact. The Badr Corps could not stop this scenario, or it would have stopped all the assassinations lately of Shiite notables in the South, including two of Sistani's aides... Mind you, if the elected Iraqi parliament asks for a withdrawal timetable, I think the US has an absolute duty to comply. It is a different issue as to whether such a move is wise or could succeed without the Iraqis paying an even higher price than they have already paid."
Earlier, Cole reviewed the pros and cons of withdrawal and offered, "One solution to this latter problem might be to set a timetable for withdrawal of Coalition land forces, but for the US and its allies to continue to offer the new Iraqi government's army close air support in any battles with the neo-Baathists and jihadis that might try to take advantage of the withdrawal to make a coup and institute a bloodbath." 11:27:34 PM