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IRAQ VOTES: THE ISSUES (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) BY AMIR TAHERI 01/27/05)Source: http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/21518.htm NEW YORK POST NEW YORK POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-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 of terrorism.

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 political spectrum.

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 preach forgiveness.

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 for forgiveness.

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 government departments.

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. 01/27/05)

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