You know, apart from trifling matters such as suicide bombers, acute shortages, a plummeting U.S. dollar, and lousy troop morale, I thought the Iraq occupation/handover was going swimmingly. We had a date certain to hold elections and, after, the U.S. could make concrete plans to withdraw, and Iraqis could go about charting their own course.
Then I read this piece in the Los Angeles Times and despaired:
Iraq's most prominent Sunni Muslim religious party announced Monday that it was withdrawing from next month's parliamentary elections, saying that violence remains too grave to conduct the vote. . . .
The [Iraqi Islamic Party] party said . . . that it remained committed to the electoral process but that violence across the Sunni heartland north and west of Baghdad "that every day moves from bad to worse" made it necessary to delay the January 30 vote for as long as six months.
The party's leader insisted that this was "not a boycott" and pleaded for "extra time" for the insurgent-torn Sunni territory to get ready to enter a national election. There are other Sunni political parties, but this should be considered a major setback.
"Major" because the U.S. wants as much Sunni participation come January 30 as possible. The Bush administration has gone so far as to "[voice] support for a quota system to guarantee Sunni politicians seats in the new national assembly."
The article quotes an unnamed official as saying that the Sunni politicians "do have a legitimate beef," which wins my vote for understatement of the week. As Baghdad University political science professor Jaber Habib said of attempts to politick in Al Anbar and Ninevah, "[The] candidates can't reveal their names or they might be killed. How can they campaign like that?"
Iraq optimists like Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria had been banking on a decent Sunni turnout in this election, and less Sunni-based terrorism after, but the odds at this point are not good.
Don't tell that to a lot of ordinary Iraqis who are taking the Han Solo approach ("never tell me the odds") to the future of their country. For a piece earlier this week, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt interviewed A. Heather Coyne, of the U.S. Institute for Peace, to tell of the struggles of Iraqis to rebuild civil institutions that Saddam Hussein had crushed or kept from forming. Here's the most moving bit:
One local leader called the day after being shot three times -- to ask whether the institute had accepted the people he had recommended to take part in a seminar. Another, whose house was torched, got in touch to make sure Coyne had his new telephone number.
As for what kind of a government is likely to come from all of this, we can only guess. Because the U.S. refused to go the Japan route and write a new Iraq constitution, the drafting of that document is still up in the air and subject to a popular vote in 2006, if things go to plan.
At this point it looks likely that some sort of Islamic democracy will emerge -- though just how Islamic or how democratic are questions to be wrestled with (and blogged about) at a later date.