Should US Troops in Iraq be held Hostage to the next Election?

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the Iraqi parliament again on Thursday failed to pass an electoral law to govern the holding of the planned January 16 parliamentary elections. The Kurdish delegates refused to come into the parliament building, thereby denying the session a quorum. The Turkmen and Arab delegates had demanded that Kirkuk be treated differently in the legislation than other provinces (Kurds are now a majority in Kirkuk, and the Kurds wish to annex the province to their Kurdistan Regional Government, a semi-independent confederacy in northern Iraq; Turkmen and Arabs consider the majority artificial, the result of Kurdistan-backed Kurdish in-migration, and consider having an ordinary election there a reward to the Kurds for land-grabbing. Kurds maintain that the province has long been theirs and that they are just correcting the ‘Arabization’ or ethnic cleansing and settlement policies of Saddam Hussein, who brought Arab families north to make the oil-rich province indisputably Arab).

Many pundits are maintaining that the failure to hold parliamentary elections on time will, perhaps, force US troops to stay longer and in greater numbers than envisaged in the Status of Forces agreement.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government arrested dozens of security officials, saying that they were implicated in Sunday’s attacks.

Back to elections. Elections in Iraq cannot be held to international standards. There typically are no big public rallies, for fear that they would be blown up by Sunni Arab guerrillas. Candidates can seldom campaign publicly for fear of assassination. For the election itself, the US military declares a curfew and prohibits vehicular traffic for 3 days. Everyone is reduced to walking to the store to buy bread and other necessities. You can’t drive. This measure prevents car bombings of the polling stations.

So why does the US still have 120,000 troops in Iraq? They aren’t for the most part doing patrols anymore. They are just being kept in place so that they can swing into action as soon as the election date is fixed, and protect the electoral process from sabotage by bombing.

Is this rationale really a good enough reason to keep so many troops in Iraq? Shouldn’t the Iraqi army by now be able to supervise a vehicular curfew on its own? And, why should the Obama administration care if the election is held or not? Saudi Arabia hasn’t held any elections lately and it is our ally. The Iraqis were made by the US to have several elections, and they know how to do it if they want to. Why allow their interminable parlays on basic things like an electoral law to hold US troops hostage in the country with nothing much to do for a year?

The parliamentary and provincial elections and the referendum on the constitution were always imagined by the Bush administration as propaganda exercises on behalf of the Republican Party and Neoconservatism. Although the elections have not been meaningless, and a lot of Iraqis obviously express their political spirit through them, they have been highly flawed and artificial. The first, in January 2005, completely excluded the Sunni Arabs because it was not based on voting districts, and it appears to have been stolen by Iran, much to the delight at the time of the Red States (?). In some ways that election provoked the Great Sunni-Shiite Civil War. The constitution was rejected by a majority in each of the major Sunni Arab-majority provinces and so is not a national constitution, and it has a strong theocratic overtone (read it and weep, Christopher Hitchens). Islam is the state religion and parliament may pass no legislation contradicting sharia or Islamic canon law. Kurdish separatism is virtually enshrined in it. The Muslim fundamentalists won the December 2005 parliamentary elections as well. Critics accused Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of using intimidation by tribal forces and the advantages of incumbency to skew the results of the provincial elections of January, 2009 toward his Islamic Mission (Da’wa) Party. (Some charge al-Maliki of increasingly adopting the techniques and rhetoric of the region’s ‘soft’ dictators).

Iraq is a poor candidate for successful transition to democracy or for social peace. It has a low per capita income if you subtract the notional petroleum income, which is not exactly shared out with the people. Poor countries often fail in their attempt to democratize. It does not have a long-established, respectable business class. It has no effective trade unions to speak of, since the Baath Party had coopted them and then Paul “Jerry” Bremer dissolved them by viceregal fiat. The UN/ US sanctions of the 1990s and the US occupation has pushed literacy down to 58% from more like 78% in the heyday of the pre-Saddam Baath Party. The country has come to be strongly divided by ethno-religious divisions. Its economy is dominated by a pricey primary commodity, petroleum, and gasoline is easily stolen and fought over, producing militia competition and deaths. . All of these factors have been cited to explain failure at democratization and/or high rates of political violence, and all are present in Iraq in spades.

Me, I don’t think the US troop withdrawal should be tied to the successful holding of a parliamentary election, in which US troops are assigned the role of watchmen. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) should be adhered to, and the Iraqis will just have to decide if they want to hold an election or not, and if they do, their troops should supervise it.

I’m as in favor of democracy as anyone else. But I’m a also skeptical that it can be imposed at the point of a gun on a deeply divided society that is at the moment dirt-poor.

The time for elections as US propaganda victory has passed.

End/ (Not Continued)

Should US Troops in Iraq be held Hostage to the next Election?

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the Iraqi parliament again on Thursday failed to pass an electoral law to govern the holding of the planned January 16 parliamentary elections. The Kurdish delegates refused to come into the parliament building, thereby denying the session a quorum. The Turkmen and Arab delegates had demanded that Kirkuk be treated differently in the legislation than other provinces (Kurds are now a majority in Kirkuk, and the Kurds wish to annex the province to their Kurdistan Regional Government, a semi-independent confederacy in northern Iraq; Turkmen and Arabs consider the majority artificial, the result of Kurdistan-backed Kurdish in-migration, and consider having an ordinary election there a reward to the Kurds for land-grabbing. Kurds maintain that the province has long been theirs and that they are just correcting the ‘Arabization’ or ethnic cleansing and settlement policies of Saddam Hussein, who brought Arab families north to make the oil-rich province indisputably Arab).

Many pundits are maintaining that the failure to hold parliamentary elections on time will, perhaps, force US troops to stay longer and in greater numbers than envisaged in the Status of Forces agreement.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government arrested dozens of security officials, saying that they were implicated in Sunday’s attacks.

Back to elections. Elections in Iraq cannot be held to international standards. There typically are no big public rallies, for fear that they would be blown up by Sunni Arab guerrillas. Candidates can seldom campaign publicly for fear of assassination. For the election itself, the US military declares a curfew and prohibits vehicular traffic for 3 days. Everyone is reduced to walking to the store to buy bread and other necessities. You can’t drive. This measure prevents car bombings of the polling stations.

So why does the US still have 120,000 troops in Iraq? They aren’t for the most part doing patrols anymore. They are just being kept in place so that they can swing into action as soon as the election date is fixed, and protect the electoral process from sabotage by bombing.

Is this rationale really a good enough reason to keep so many troops in Iraq? Shouldn’t the Iraqi army by now be able to supervise a vehicular curfew on its own? And, why should the Obama administration care if the election is held or not? Saudi Arabia hasn’t held any elections lately and it is our ally. The Iraqis were made by the US to have several elections, and they know how to do it if they want to. Why allow their interminable parlays on basic things like an electoral law to hold US troops hostage in the country with nothing much to do for a year?

The parliamentary and provincial elections and the referendum on the constitution were always imagined by the Bush administration as propaganda exercises on behalf of the Republican Party and Neoconservatism. Although the elections have not been meaningless, and a lot of Iraqis obviously express their political spirit through them, they have been highly flawed and artificial. The first, in January 2005, completely excluded the Sunni Arabs because it was not based on voting districts, and it appears to have been stolen by Iran, much to the delight at the time of the Red States (?). In some ways that election provoked the Great Sunni-Shiite Civil War. The constitution was rejected by a majority in each of the major Sunni Arab-majority provinces and so is not a national constitution, and it has a strong theocratic overtone (read it and weep, Christopher Hitchens). Islam is the state religion and parliament may pass no legislation contradicting sharia or Islamic canon law. Kurdish separatism is virtually enshrined in it. The Muslim fundamentalists won the December 2005 parliamentary elections as well. Critics accused Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of using intimidation by tribal forces and the advantages of incumbency to skew the results of the provincial elections of January, 2009 toward his Islamic Mission (Da’wa) Party. (Some charge al-Maliki of increasingly adopting the techniques and rhetoric of the region’s ‘soft’ dictators).

Iraq is a poor candidate for successful transition to democracy or for social peace. It has a low per capita income if you subtract the notional petroleum income, which is not exactly shared out with the people. Poor countries often fail in their attempt to democratize. It does not have a long-established, respectable business class. It has no effective trade unions to speak of, since the Baath Party had coopted them and then Paul “Jerry” Bremer dissolved them by viceregal fiat. The UN/ US sanctions of the 1990s and the US occupation has pushed literacy down to 58% from more like 78% in the heyday of the pre-Saddam Baath Party. The country has come to be strongly divided by ethno-religious divisions. Its economy is dominated by a pricey primary commodity, petroleum, and gasoline is easily stolen and fought over, producing militia competition and deaths. . All of these factors have been cited to explain failure at democratization and/or high rates of political violence, and all are present in Iraq in spades.

Me, I don’t think the US troop withdrawal should be tied to the successful holding of a parliamentary election, in which US troops are assigned the role of watchmen. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) should be adhered to, and the Iraqis will just have to decide if they want to hold an election or not, and if they do, their troops should supervise it.

I’m as in favor of democracy as anyone else. But I’m a also skeptical that it can be imposed at the point of a gun on a deeply divided society that is at the moment dirt-poor.

The time for elections as US propaganda victory has passed.

End/ (Not Continued)

11 Responses

  1. "Kurdish separatism is virtually enshrined in it.". As Reidar Vissar points out in his blog, the conditions for Kurdish separatism were inserted into the Iraqi constitution by none other than Peter Galbraith in his role as U.S. diplomat. In his other role as a private investor, he extracted personal profit by investing in a company that signed a deal to extract 'Kurdish' oil. He is now suing his erstwhile Norwegian buddies because he doesn't think he got enough for his troubles. Maybe those who say that we invaded Iraq for the oil (and not to oblige Israel) are right after all.

  2. I guess this is what GW Bush and his radical right wing cronies had in mind for Iraq…a colossal mess.

    I am never ceased to be amazed at the Republicans uncanny ability to foul things up.

  3. unusually forceful comment today, professor {grin} Well the first thought you provoked in my brain was that they were not forcing, enforcing or reinforcing ‘democracy’, they're forcing elections ~ which is not the same thing (e.g., the archetype Greek democracy did not employ the mechanism of election, they used sortition). We often confuse the two (and then complain that "democracy" was denied because "election" failed to produce it :) fwiw We also conflate and confuse the ideas of "democracy" and "capitalism" ~ and I suspect that those neocons you referred to were really envisioning "IRAQ, the capitalist enterprise," rather than "IRAQ, the democratic state." Then I read your comment again, had a little more café et pain beurré and began to wonder "When did they, the Iraqi electorate (or for that matter, they ~ the Afghan electorate) gain this power to determine what our troops do, or whether they can come home now, or then, or not ever?" How did this notion even become part of the conversation? i mean, Our electorate has spoken: Mr. President: bring the troops home!

  4. Self Determination and Popular Sovereignty–Two US, now international, ideals

    The problem has always been for the USA and others to keep their hands off and noses out of the attempts by other peoples to arrive at the ends of their attempts at self determination through popular sovereignty–especially if those attempts appear to result in soemthing seen as being detrimental to the USA's or Others's "interests." This is of course the case in Iraq and in many other countries, certainly Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    The entitlement expected by USA and Other elites that's usually kept private found public expression recently when T. Boone Pickens said the USA was "entitled" to Iraqi oil because of the "costs" we "paid" to get it, and that after all our efforts, China would now get the oil we're entitled to: "They're opening them (oil fields) up to other companies all over the world … We're entitled to it … Heck, we even lost 5,000 of our people, 65,000 injured and a trillion, five hundred billion dollars….. We leave there with the Chinese getting the oil." So, I would expecct USA's elite to use the elections or anything else they can find as an excuse to keep combat troops stationed there.

    The Iraqis and Iranians have devised two rather different political systems, both of which were formed at the barrel of a USA gun pointed at them, which accounts for the lack of popular input and approval of constitutions and institutions–which is to say that Self Determination was delivered still-born to both and to others that suffered similar circumstances during nationbirth. The instability experienced by most of the new countries of the post-colonial era is a direct result of Self Determination being stifled by Imperialists from USA and the former colonial-parent countries.

    For Iraq to develop politically, all foreign military forces must leave and all sanctions must end. Then to help its economic redevelopment and to cleanse it of the poisons scattered all over the country, reparations must be paid by the countries that destroyed it and sowed the poisons, providing a justice to Iraqis that Southeast Asians never got after their made in the USA Holocaust. But even with these necessary acts, Iraq is likely to remain destabilized because of the above mentioned reason–its current form of government and constitution wasn't self determined–until it convenes a constituent assembly to draw a new constitution that is an Iraqi constitution, not some railroaded facsimile.

  5. David Brooks today dangerously and naively says that "experts" (not a single one cited, of course) all say that the most important thing on Afghanistan is not judgment, or flexibility and ability to adapt to new information, but "fixation and grip on a single concept."

    That concept, of course, also by coincidence happening to be the one that Brooks supports. If not, as Richard Cohen and the Wash' Post headline writers somewhat similarly put it in an op-ed recently, Obama must lack leadership, which leadership, to the Post, as well, he has "thus far not shown" (the original opinion home page subheading link to the piece).

  6. Lotta questions… lotta discord! Castles made of sand soon fall when the tide comes in.

    We simply have not learned our lessons from the past. History will continue to spit out the same result for all attempting to reform nations that were there when we were still throwing defecant out the back door! They will not relinquish tribal rule, nor will they learn the ways of the infidel.

    One day, we will learn the benefit of diplomacy over the price of war!

  7. drafting an electoral bill that could easily shift the reign of power while your country is still trying to determine how a signicant piece of territory (oil rich Kirkuk) will be divided seems to me to be a recipe for disaster.

    Hukook al-Insan
    link to tqa81.wordpress.com

  8. And why shouldn't Kurdish separatism be enshrined in the constitution? It is, after all, what the Kurdish people want. (But Prof. Cole doesn't care about the Kurds–he likes Arabs and Turks better for some reason.)

  9. I am a firm supporter of democracy and make no apologies for that. I also, like Juan Cole, was a firm opponent of the Iraqi invasion.

    One of the biggest challenges for people like me, is that the invasion has resulted in a pluralistic electoral system where popular opinion clearly matters, diversity of opinion is widespread and there is a vibrant news media. This is a sharp contrast to the situation under Saddam. Iraq today is near the top of the middle east league where democracy is concerned – even after considering the violence, occupation and creeping authoritarianism.

    This upcoming election looks like offering the Iraqi people a real choice – between a more nationalist Maliki and a Shiite Islamist bloc. There will also be a significant bloc bringing together Allawi, Salah al-Mutlak and Tariq al-Hashimi. The "Movement for Change" will once more provide significant competition in Kurdistan as will al-Hadba in Mosul. The winning coalition, future government parties and future Prime Minister and President are all up for grabs.

    These elections matter to Iraq. Having invaded the country and caused so much chaos, the United States has a moral obligation to consider the fate of the country.

    There's nothing particularly attractive in the US isolationism you propose – I hope Obama doesn't see it as the answer to neo-conservatism. Staying a few more months could make a huge difference at no major cost. Leaving in the middle of an election would be foolish.

  10. "The UN/ US sanctions of the 1990s and the US occupation has pushed literacy down to 58% from more like 78% in the heyday of the pre-Saddam Baath Party."

    You are quite mistaken. It was Saddam Hussein who established the literacy programme and also received an award from UNESCO for it.

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