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IRAQIS DO IT AGAIN
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
January 22, 2006

January 22, 2006 -- THERE were many drawn faces on television Friday as the final results of Iraq's general election were announced. Some faces belonged to those who have prayed and worked hard to make Iraq a failure so as to get at President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Others belonged to the partisans of "benign neglect"— a philosophy according to which the West should just let "those Arabs stew in their own juices."

Let us recall some of the predictions made by those who had opposed the liberation of Iraq.

One was that democracy could not be imposed by force. Well, Iraq has shown that force can be used to remove impediments to democracy.

Another prediction was that the Iraqis, rather than learning to sort out differences through politics, were hell bent on starting a civil war. (This reporter is invited to take part in radio or TV debates about the fictitious civil war in Iraq at least twice a month.) Iraqis, however, are beginning to see democracy as an alternative to civil war and seem prepared to give it a chance.

YET another prediction was that Shiite fundamentalist parties would sweep to victory and then, for some strange reason, hand over their country to the mullahs in Tehran. Well, we now know that the unified Shiite roster, the List 555, has won 128 of the 275 seats in the new parliament and is thus short of a majority. (In the January 2005 general election, which was boycotted by some Arab Sunni parties, the alliance won 146 seats.)

More significant, the elements most closely identified with Iran within the Shiite alliance sustained the biggest losses. The message is clear: The majority of Iraqi Shiites do not want an Iranian-style theocracy.

The full return of the Arab Sunnis to the political process has also led to a reduction in the number of seats won by the Kurdish alliance. It ended up with 53 seats, compared to 75 in the current

By contrast, Arab Sunni parties managed to win more seats than the demographic strength of their community would suggest. The main Sunni alliance, the Iraqi Accord Front, bagged 44 seats; another Sunni coalition, led by Salih al-Mutlaq, gets 11. By my count, at least another nine Arab Sunnis have been elected on other lists. This would give Arab Sunnis, who account for 15 percent of Iraq's population, a total of 64 seats, 20 more than their demographics would allow.

One reason for the good showing of Sunni candidates is that some Shiite voters chose Sunni candidates as a means of reducing the influence of Islamist parties within the Shiite community. The Arab parties that run on secularist platforms won 37 seats, of which 25 went to the list headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

THE results, to be officially certified after 10 days, allow for a range of possibilities when it comes to forming the government that will run Iraq for the next four years.

One possibility is the continuation of the current coalition of the main Shiite parties and the Kurds. Together, the two blocs would have 181 seats, short of the two-thirds majority needed under the new constitution to name a presidential triumvirate and a prime minister; the extra seats could come either from Arab Sunnis or secularists. That would lock virtually all parties into a grand coalition, leaving no significant group to assume the function of the opposition.

But other combinations are possible. The Kurds could form a coalition with Arab Sunnis and secularists and end up with 117 seats. That would be a good base from which to woo some of the Shiite groups away from the 555 alliance and into a "rainbow" coalition.

NEGOTIATIONS about forming the new government are expected to begin around Feb. 15, with at least three candidates for the premiership.

The Shiite parties will first have to sort out their internal quarrels and agree to field a single candidate. The incumbent Premier Ibrahim al-Jaafari and the current Finance Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi are leading contenders.

The Arab Sunni parties have already formed a coalition with Allawi's party and would back his bid for the premiership, in exchange for naming an Arab Sunni president of the republic. The Kurds have no candidate for the premiership but would insist on renewing Jalal Talabani's mandate as president.

THE new Iraqi government will face four immediate tasks.

The first is to negotiate a new status for the U.S.-led Coalition forces. The Coalition's current mission, endorsed by the United Nations' Security Council in September 2003 and twice renewed, ends with the holding of elections and the formation of the democratic government in Baghdad. Thus its new mission should be sorted out by September, at the latest.

All the parties that took part in the election — from Communist to royalist, Islamist to democrat — want the U.S.-led Coalition to retain a strong presence until Iraq's own security forces can assume the task of defeating the terrorists and defending the nation against such predatory neighbors as Iran and Syria.

The second task of the new government is to negotiate the constitutional amendments promised before the general election. This is necessary to show that Iraqis can solve their political problems through compromise. It is also needed to finalize the entry of the Arab Sunnis into the political process.

The third task is to secure final agreement to remodel the nation's economy from a Soviet-style one to one in tune with the realities of the global market system.

The fourth task is to harmonize the various, and at times contradictory, plans that have been underway for the creation of a new army and police force. Most Iraqi parties believe the process has been too slow partly because of policy changes by the Coalition and partly because of Arab Sunni opposition prior to last December's general election.

BY holding a string of democratic elections and laying the foundations of the rule of law, the people of Iraq have fulfilled the part of the contract with the U.S.-led Coalition that liberated them. The Coalition must fulfill its part of the bargain by continuing to help Iraq defeat the enemies of democracy inside Iraq and along its border.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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