The string of 3 coordinated suicide blasts on March 3rd in Baquba, Diyala province that left at least 30 people dead was an ominous sign in the face of the parliamentary elections in the country. The vote on March 7 "was marred by violence as a series of explosions left at least 38 people dead and 89 others wounded in the capital." The elections will determine the composition of the next government and is widely seen as a necessary step towards continuing the US withdrawal of troops, the healing of sectarian tensions, and the establishment of a democratic and secular state. Let us briefly examine each of these three propositions in turn.
Under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between Iraq and the US all US combat troops are to be out of the country by December 31, 2011, subject to possible further negotiations which could delay withdrawal and a referendum originally scheduled for mid-2009 but now taking place along with the parlemntery elections which may require U.S. forces to completely leave Iraq with in a year. As is well known, a large contingent of US troops will remain in Iraq for many years to come, occupying the various permanent bases (and guarding the largest embassy ever built, in infamous city-within-the-city) that the US has spent billions building.
[Note: The US government has insisted that there are no permanent bases in Iraq, nor will there ever be any. This is true in a sense. Just as, let's say, the sun is not permanent, nor will the bases in Iraq be (or Germany, Japan, Korea, etc.). The US government has the ability to be quite philosophical at times. Endnote]
The number of troops to remain within Iraq is still unclear, but the figure has been widely placed in the tens of thousands.
Surely one of the lasting legacies of the invasion and subsequent civil war that destroyed much of the country will the be division of the country on enthno-religious lines. The fostering of the latent sectarian tensions by the US and its allies (Shia-Sunni, Kurd-Arab-Turkoman, Christian- Muslim) has resulted in the breakdown of national identity. What had been a functioning, if be no means harmonious, nation-state has since degenerated into a Balkanized state. Kurds in the north, Shia in Baghdad (once a multi-ethnic city, now largely Shia) and the south/east, Sunni in the west, this is the general pattern that has crystalized over the past 7 years. It’s not to say that each group did not occupy areas of local significance before the invasion, it’s just that the internal displacement and shifting of populations have flowed along the lines of ethnic cleansing leaving Iraq divided by sectarian difficulties that will hard to overcome.
The much trumpeted success of the military ‘surge’ in the US media is largely due to the new makeup of ethno-religious divisions, whether from internal migration or resulting from the physical separation by barriers (read walls) of Sunni neighborhoods from Shia. The stated of goal the surge, to provide enough security and stability to provide time for a political solution to be reached among the different communities within Iraq, has been by in large unsuccessful. The recent banning of hundreds of candidates standing in the election by the Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki (all of the important ones banned were Sunni) is a sign that right under the surface tensions remain high.
Without a doubt security has improved in Iraq over the past few years. The ever-present terror of 2006-07 has subsided, although the memory of it is still fresh and there is a lingering effect on public life. Take for example a recent gathering for a campaign rally to hear Iyad Allawi, head of the Iraqiya opposition, which attracted 600-700 people on Zeitoun street in Baghdad’s Mansour district.
Omar Chatriwala writes:
No vehicles were allowed nearby, and police and troops were present in large numbers.
In fact, there was even a (fairly minor) security incident as Abu Hamza exited stage and journalists rushed in to try to get something more out of the hopeful candidate.
A certain international correspondent pressing to get closer – red faced, determined look, and with a heavy (bullet-proof) vest under his shirt – drew a few looks of surprise from the guards, followed by a heavy prodding of his chest.
Most media members were, however, then allowed onto Allawi’s yard for a chat with him, Adnan Pachachi, and a few other members of his coaliton.
By the time we were done, 20-30 minutes later, there were few indications that a stage had ever been there, just a few rally stragglers, some of whom were clearly awaiting handouts.
ultimately the establishment of democracy and secularism in Iraq will be a long process and only possible if society is able to heal the deep wounds it has suffered. Does this begin at the ballot box, as many in the US have argued, or is a precondition for democracy itself? Representative liberal democracy will only begin functioning if a large majority of its citizens support the project. The fact that it was initiated by external force throws the basis of the experiment into question as the resulting state apparatus had to conform as much to the wishes of the US as it did the Iraqi people. A state that is truly independent, that is one which is free to choose its own path of development, domestic and foreign policy, is unlikely to come about under the patronage of the Imperium. A minimum test of this independence will be whether or not the Iraqi people can see their desire to be free from the cycle of violence and foreign domination come to fruition.