Monday, May 21, 2018

Iraqi Election Opens New Chapter - Amir Taheri

by Amir Taheri

More than two-thirds of the newly elected members of the next parliament are either openly hostile to Iranian "meddling" or insist that relations with Iran should not go beyond good-neighborly behavior.

During the British House of Commons' stormy debate on 29 August 2013 on whether or not to intervene in Syria to stop further chemical weapon massacres by President Bashar al-Assad, the then leader of the opposition Ed Miliband boasted that he could prove intervention wrong by just one word: Iraq!

For almost two decades that four-letter word has been used by people with many different shades of politics to describe the futility, not to mention "the criminality", of intervention by democratic powers against even exceptionally tyrannical regimes.

As Iraqis went to the polls the other day to elect a new parliament, and thus their next government, I realized that the four-letter word mouthed with scorn by people like Barack Obama and Miliband, was now replaced by a five-letter word: Syria!

If "Iraq" is a symbol of what intervention could produce, the word "Syria" illustrates what non-assistance to a nation in danger could lead to.

As Iraq is emerging from a tempestuous phase of history, having coped with collapse of state structures, sectarian war, ethnic secessionism and pariah-hood imposed by do-gooders of all ilk in the West, Syria remains a giant-size slaughterhouse not only for Assad's death-machine but also for Russian air forces, Iranian "shrine defenders" and their Lebanese, Afghan and Pakistani mercenaries, not to mention Turkey's neo-Ottoman "ghazis".

Just a year after Iraq shook off the yoke of tyranny it was on its way to a new life with a not always coherent strategy of democratization. Since 2003, Iraq has had many ups and downs, has made many mistakes, and, needless to say, has suffered a great deal.

However, the overwhelming majority of its people have remained committed to two principles: preventing the recreation of a new machinery of repression, and power-sharing through the mechanism of elections. I think they have been successful on both counts. Attempts at fabricating a new "strongman" and under him a new repressive machine, having reached their peak in Premier Nuri al-Maliki's final phase in office, failed convincingly.

Attempts at grabbing power by circumventing the political process also failed when the Hakim family's Badr brigade and Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army militia failed to disrupt the democratic process by force. An attempt by Massoud Barzani to do "do his own thing" through an illegal independence referendum in the Kurdish Autonomous Region also failed. The most vicious challenge to the newly began democratic process in Iraq came from the so-called Islamic State. That challenge, too, was met and defeated, albeit at a heavy price in blood and treasure.

Right now Iraq, where intervention happened, is on its way to a better future, albeit not necessarily on a straight line. Syria, where non-intervention was imposed by Obama and Europeans who mimicked him, is going nowhere, unless deeper into tragedy.

The good news is that the Iraqi election did take place without violence and with a minimum of hanky-panky. I would have preferred the election to be postponed for a few more months to allow an estimated 2.3 million "internally displaced" people to be put on the electoral register. That the turnout, around 45 per cent, was at least 17 per cent lower than the previous general election is partly due to the inability of many "displaced persons" to be readmitted to the legal process.

Another reason for the low turnout was the decision by some voters in the predominantly Shiite provinces to stay home.

The two "lists" backed by Iran, that of al-Maliki and the former militia commander Hadi al-Ameri, spent vast sums of money, much of its brought from Tehran in cash, but end up with 92 seats, out of 329, in the next Council of Representatives (parliament). And this despite the fact they stood on openly sectarian platforms.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's "Victory" list also failed to impress, partly because it tried to build a cult of personality around its leader as the "conqueror" who defeated ISIS.

In the recent Iraqi election, the "Victory" list of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi (pictured) failed to impress, partly because it tried to build a cult of personality around its leader as the "conqueror" who defeated ISIS. (Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images)

This election also highlighted the limits of influence that the mullahs of Najaf could exert. The principal figure among them, Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Sistani, refused to endorse any "list" and only called on voters to chase away "corrupt and selfish politicians." (He couldn't vote because he is an Iranian citizen.) Most other mullahs also stayed in the side-lines, conscious [t]hat most Iraqis look to mullah-dominates system in Iran as a warning not as a model.

Despite higher voter turnout, the political landscape in the Kurdish Autonomous region has also changed with parties backed by Iran losing support while, paradoxically, those with closer ties to Turkey maintaining their position. Overall, however, Iraqi Kurds still represent a reservoir of support for the United States, provided Washington wishes to play a leading role in Iraq.

Despite attempts by sections of Western media to invent a new imaginary victory for the Islamic Republic in Iran, the Iraqi election showed that a majority of Iraqis resent Tehran's attempts at intervening in their affairs. More than two-thirds of the newly elected members of the next parliament are either openly hostile to Iranian "meddling" or insist that relations with Iran should not go beyond good-neighborly behavior.

Last Tuesday, General Qassem Soleimani, head of the "Jerusalem Corps" and in charge of "exporting revolution," flew to Baghdad in a forlorn attempt at stitching together a coalition subservient to Tehran. However, he may have just added to his string of his political failures in Lebanon and Syria.

This does not mean that Iran is scripted out of Iraqi politics. That is some away off, although the process could be accelerated by the Khomeinist regime's own crisis. Thus, the next prime minister, and hence Cabinet, may still need a wink and a nod from Iran and the United States following a pattern set by both the George W Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

President Donald Trump may want to change that pattern, as he has done with some other policies inherited from his predecessors. He could aim at excluding Iran. But that would require a genuine and strong American commitment of the kind that helped Federal Germany, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, among others, transform themselves into modern democracies.

The chief lesson of this election is that a majority of Iraqis wish to focus on their national identity rather than ethnic and sectarian divisions. Before the end of term for the newly elected parliament, Iraq would mark the centenary of its re-emergence as a nation-state after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. My hope is that Iraqis will start preparing for that great occasion to prove wrong those who opposed their liberation.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat

Amir Taheri,  formerly executive editor-in-chief of Iran's premier newspaper, Kayhan, before the Iranian revolution of 1979, is a prominent author based on Europe. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.


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