Iraq’s election results show that the country’s wounds are healing

By The Daily Star

Iraq’s provincial election results come as a welcome sign that a spirit of nationalism is alive and well in the war-battered nation. By voting for the bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi people who went to the polls last week rejected the paradigm of ethnic and sectarian identity politics that was imposed on them by outsiders, and put the interests of the nation above those of their various tribes and sects.

Just two years ago Iraq was facing a near breakdown of society along sectarian lines and was teetering on the brink of a full-scale civil war. This development was one of the unfortunate consequences of the removal of Saddam Hussein’s iron-fisted rule and the adoption of a “Lebanized” form of governance – or one based on a sectarian power-sharing arrangement. It was the Americans who imposed on the Iraqis a Lebanon-style constitution that allocated political power on the basis of sectarian affiliation, even though everyone knows that this model never worked very well (to say the least) in Beirut. But it was the Iraqis who suffered the consequences of ethnic and sectarian identity politics when their country was nearly shredded apart.

This decision on the part of the Americans was just one example of the deadly results of US meddling in Iraq. Senior military officers in Iraq used to jokingly refer to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s penchant for micromanaging Iraq’s affairs as the “7,000-mile screwdriver.” That characterization, while humorous, is a grim description of the former administration’s tendency to dictate the course of events in Iraq, often in a way that has had disastrous unforeseen consequences. Fortunately, new US President Barack Obama has made clear early in his term that he will not seek to steer internal Iraqi affairs.

The results of the provincial vote bode well for the future of the country – and for its occupiers. For the United States, the election results mean that Obama can now more easily fulfil his pledge to the American people that the war in Iraq will not be an open-ended one. The vote showed that Iraq is beginning to recover from the series of bad decisions made by the previous US administration and that the country is better equipped for self-governance. This does not mean that the Americans can wash their hands of the entire Iraq war. Indeed, it is their duty to use their remaining time in the country to continue helping the Iraqis build the institutions that will allow them to maintain their newfound spirit of national unity.

For Iraq, the elections demonstrated that the Iraqi people are no longer viewing themselves solely as Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians but are beginning to again see themselves as Iraqi citizens. The challenge now is to shore up that sentiment through active diplomacy with the involvement of the United States and all of Iraq’s neighbors.