IRAQ VOTES: THE ISSUES (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) BY AMIR TAHERI 01/27/05)
NEW YORK POST
NEW YORK POST Articles-Index-Top
January 27, 2005 -- ARE the insurgents and their terrorist allies in
the Sunni Triangle doing Iraq a favor without knowing it?
Anyone following the campaign would know that the insurgency has
concentrated most Iraqi minds on a single issue: security. It has
drawn together communities and political parties that would otherwise
be fighting over faith, ideology and raw material interest.
Communists, monarchists and Islamists often find themselves on the
same side when it comes to defeating the insurgents and ridding Iraq
Yet the National Assembly elected on Sunday will quickly find itself
faced in a number of other issues ó the real, long-term issue of
Iraqi politics that have been occulted by the terrorist campaign:
Mosque and State: Some radical Shiite and Sunni groups want Islam
declared to be not only the official state religion, but also the
sole source of legislation. This is opposed by others across the
The terror campaign has prevented fundamentalist Sunni groups from
forging an alliance with their Shiite counterparts in a common quest
for an Islamic government. And the bitter anti-Shiite tone of the
insurgency has prevented Shiite fundamentalists from advertising
their true colors in the campaign.
Federalism: The Kurds take this to mean autonomy just short of full
independence. The Arabs, both Shiites and Sunnis, however, are not
prepared to go that far and will do all they can to limit autonomy to
local issues. The status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, claimed by
both Kurds and Arabs, is likely to become a hot issue.
Iraq was created as a state in 1921 with a highly centralized system
of government. The culture of devolution is new to Iraq and the new
parliament might have great difficulty achieving a consensus on
building a genuinely federal structure based on the concept of two
nations in one country.
Forgiveness or Revenge? Many Iraqis are angry at the fact that the
Coalition has left the vast majority of former Ba´athist officials
free and unpunished. Some want massive purges and the trial and
punishment of tens of thousands of former Saddam associates. Others
Many informal revenge squads are already in existence, determined to
hunt the Ba´athists and mete out punishment in the most dramatic
manner possible. If they have not gone into action yet it is largely
because the Coalition has told them to remain calm.
One immediate effect of an early withdrawal of the U.S.-led forces
could be a nationwide massacre of the Ba´athists, including those who
are part of the insurgency. The Americans are campaigning for a truth-
and-reconciliation formula to prevent a future bloodbath. But it is
not at all certain that the new parliament will produce a majority
Market Economy vs. Welfare State: The Americans have tried to remold
Iraq after the Milton Friedman model of free-market economics. But
virtually all political parties contesting this election are
promising state subsidies and welfare measures.
Who Gets What? The distribution of Iraq´s oil revenues and the
sharing of its water resources are crucial issues. The Kurds want a
system of sharing based on demographic strength of each community.
The Arabs, both Shiites and Sunnis, want the central government to
have a free hand within national budgets and plans.
Women´s Rights: Thanks to U.S. pressure, all electoral lists consist
of 30 percent women candidates; at least a quarter of the seats in
the Assembly are likely to go to women. Most Islamist parties and
some tribes oppose this, and the quotas imposed in favor of women in
Even more serious is their objection to giving women equal rights in
matters of marriage, divorce and child custody. Secularist parties,
however, believe the measures must go further in favor of women.
Reviewing the laws on such issues of private life will be one of the
early tasks of the new parliament. While many fear that new laws will
be more reactionary, women´s organizations and secularist parties are
determined to fight any such backtracking.
What To Do With Foreign Forces? Some want a quick end to the American
and allied military presence. Others believe the Coalition should
remain for another three to five years to make sure that Iraqi
democracy is stabilized and that Iraq has an army to protect it
against predatory neighbors. It now seems likely that the new
parliament and the government that it will produce will ask the U.S.-
led force to remain at least until the end of 2007.
Foreign Policy: Always a hot topic in Arab politics, it will be even
more so in Iraq in this period of transition. Some want Iraq to
withdraw from the Arab League and even OPEC and to seek a special
relationship with the U.S.-led NAFTA. Others want to seek the
leadership of the Arabs with a message of democratization. Some want
Iraq to recognize Israel; others strongly oppose that move.
Tehran´s mullahs, operating through their clients and sympathizers
inside Iraq, will do all they can to goad Iraq towards a "third-
worldist" and anti-American posture. The United States and its
allies, meanwhile, will work hard to persuade the new Iraq that it is
in its best interest to jettison the prejudices and misconceptions
that have passed for Arab foreign policy over the past five decades.
With Sunday´s election, Iraq´s real political problems, pushed onto
the backburner by the insurgency, will begin to move center-stage.
Building a new pluralist Iraq remains a difficult task, but one that
is certainly worth working and fighting for.
Amir Taheri, the author of 10 books on the Middle East and Islam, is
a member of Benador Associates. (Copyright 2005 NYP Holdings, Inc.
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY