No Matter Who Wins, Iraq Falls Apart


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Whoever wins, Thursday’s parliamentary elections in Iraq will usher in an era of great change there, moving the country away from centralized government toward regionalism and probable dissolution.

That movement is already well under way. The Kurdish region, disregarding the central government in Baghdad, already has struck its own deal with a Norwegian oil company. The interim government blusters, but there is nothing in the new constitution to make the Kurds share their oil revenues with Baghdad. Moreover, Kurdish control over Kirkuk, the oil rich city, appears to be likely.

Shortly after the election, the country’s vast oil resources are to be parceled out to the different regions, which will control them independent of any central government. That means economic power will spread to the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south—both groups sitting astride big oil fields. Once regionalized, the oil resources will be privatized through joint production agreements, with the different regions cutting their separate deals with big oil companies. The federal government will be left out in the cold.

Created more or less in imitation of Western democracy, this Iraqi election, like our own, will deny any real voice for the poor. Because campaigning is so dangerous—various candidates already have been killed—the politicking is by TV. The rich are the only people with money to wage TV advertising campaigns. How can this even pretend to be a Western-style democracy if the state can’t protect the voters when they go to the polls? In Iraq, people go to the ballot box with the real possibility they will be killed on the way home.

One hope is that the security lockdown, including a ban on vehicular traffic, will put off car bombings.

President Bush’s efforts to boost the Iraqis into providing their own security system is resulting not in beefed-up policing but in a lessening U.S. influence and a
widening impact for radical and ethnic militias, reports Bloomberg. Religious radicals attack the whole system as satanic and push ahead with their jihad.

Everyone is beginning to realize the U.S. is on the way out, one way or another. According to an ABC/Time survey, 52 percent of those asked think things are going badly in Iraq and 60 percent saying there has been no improvement since Saddam’s fall. Half of those polled think we should not have gone in and two thirds are against the presence of coalition troops.

Almost everyone—90 percent of those polled—thinks Iraq needs its own kind of democracy. And 91 percent think the country needs a strong single leader—precisely the opposite direction from the one we are pushing the Iraqis toward. “The problem with an item like this is that we don’t know what they mean by ‘democracy,” ” writes Juan Cole, of the University of Michigan. “Over 80% of Egyptians said in one poll that democracy is the best form of government, and then 64% of them turned around and said they were satisfied with the Mubarak regime (a soft military dictatorship). So Egyptians didn’t mean by “democracy” what Americans would have.’’

Cole concludes diplomatically: “Actually, for most Middle Easterners, ‘democracy’ implies self-determination. By that measure, Iraq is not very democratic at the moment.”

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