Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Iraqi Elections

Elections in Iraq are just five days away. This is a huge event - probably even bigger than the last round of elections a year ago. In the last elections, the US played an important (and largely invisible) role in getting the ballots out, the polling stations set up, and security arranged. This time, it's the Iraqis who are doing it.

Politics in Iraq is a blood sport. If you want an image of an Iraqi politician, think of Tony Soprano. Saddam Hussein was just Tony Soprano on steriods. With him gone, there are now thousands of Tonys all around the country, each doing whatever is necessary to advance his or her interests. And if that means rubbing out a rival, or an associate of a rival, well, many of them wouldn't think twice. It's just politics. Nothing personal. (Well, except here in Iraq, everything is personal).

Over the past year, I've seen a change from a general insurgency to specifically targeted attacks. A police chief will be shot by a sniper. A sheikh will have a sticky bomb put on his car. A family member of a particular family will be kidnapped. All of these attacks are designed for a very specific audience. Yes, there are occasional large-scale bombings that damage or destroy a whole ministry. In fact, I think we're over-due for another one, since it's been several weeks since the last. They're a bit like earthquakes: the longer the time between incidents, the bigger they're gonna be.

From the point of view of an American sitting on a base, I don't worry too much about bombs. Most are targeted against Iraqis. If there's an attack on western civilians, security forces, or the military, it's usually as a target of opportunity. At least, that's true here in the Victory Base area; some other bases (particularly up north in the Mosul area) get mortar or rocket attacks fairly regularly. Even there, though, the attacks are somewhat desultory. The focus is clearly on other Iraqis, not Americans.

The Sunnis largely boycotted the first elections several years ago and they're still paying the price. They participated in the second round of elections last year and began to recover (politically) somewhat. But now I see the same sectarian divisions rearing their heads. About 400 candidates, mostly Sunni, were disqualified from this round of elections. The election boards who disqualified them were (a) almost all Shia and (b) operating in secret. There seems to be another purge of "Baathists" going on ("Baathists" these days is a synonym for Sunnis) and it includes top personnel in ministries, the Army, and police. So the Shia seem to be working hard at keeping the Sunnis marginalized. Well, we all know how well that worked out before: that's what threw gasoline on the insurgency. Will that happen again this time? That's the million-dollar question.

There are several minefields that we're trying to get through. One is the election, which is being driven by sectarianism. I complain about the extreme partisanship between the Democrats and Republicans; that's nothing compared to Shia/Sunni/Kurd divisions. Another is security in general. Another is getting this economy off the ground - but to do that, they will have to adopt internationally-recognized ethical standards. (Actually, this is a huge cultural difference: what we see as bribery, for example, they see as just a normal business payment).

Regardless, our drawdown is still on track. We're on a bit of a hold for now, until things stabilize after the election, and then we'll kick it in gear again.

I've got just under two months left. And I'm ready to go.

1 comment:

Kanani said...

2 months!
Yes, it sounds like the divisions there are deep and have been so for generations.
Stay safe, and hope to hear that the projects are coming along to completion.