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IRAQ: MOVING PAST THE VOTE (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) By AMIR TAHERI 02/02/05)Source: http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/39218.htm NEW YORK POST NEW YORK POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
February 2, 2005 -- SUNDAY´S election in Iraq was more than a symbolic demonstration of a people´s resolve to become master of their destiny. The vote also provided a rich political cartography that confounds those who present Iraq as a nation on the verge of sectarian civil war.

The voting showed that politics, and not religion or ethnicity, is the key to understanding the emerging balance of power in post- liberation Iraq.

Most important is that Sunday revealed the commitment of a majority of the Iraqis to a pluralist democratic system. Despite death threats from the terrorists and instances of administrative incompetence by the election organizers, almost 14 million Iraqis (of 16 million eligible) registered to vote. And almost two-thirds of those registered went to the polls. The message is clear: A majority of Iraqis want a democratic system and, given a chance, are prepared to take risks to help build it.

Sunday also showed that Iraqi politics cannot be reduced to a simplistic schema. If anything, the key word here is diversity. The 111 political parties that took part in the election represent the widest imaginable variety of ideologies and political opinions.

Broadly speaking, the election revealed the existence of four political "families." My guess is that, in time, Iraq´s political forces, rather than dividing on tribal or religious lines, will end up coalescing into these four big ideological camps.

The first, and perhaps the largest, consists of parties, groups, and personalities that put Iraqi-ness (al-uruqah) at the center of their identity. They see Iraq not as a series of rivulets flowing away from one another but as streams of diverse origins coming together to form a larger entity.

This is no poetical hyperbole. Eight decades of statehood have helped create an Iraqi identity that cuts across ethnic and sectarian divides.

Those — Shiites, Sunni Arabs, Kurds and others — who see al-uruqah as the organizing principle of their political discourse believe that Iraq must focus on building new political institutions, modernizing its economy and further developing its culture. They may differ on economic, social and foreign policies but they all sing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to national strategies.

These are not banal nationalists or xenophobic chauvinists as found in so many other so-called "developing countries." Rather, they are patriots who realize that Iraqis, living in a rough neighborhood, must stick with one another to prevent their country from being dismantled and divided by larger powers — where Iraqi-ness would, at best, be regarded as a mere folkloric quirk.

The second large family to emerge in the elections could be described as Islamist. But there is virtually no support here for an Islamic state like Iran or Sudan. Rather, Islam is emphasized as a common denominator that could unite Iraqis regardless of ethnic and confessional differences. Again, this approach has adherents in all communities, Shiites, Arab Sunnis, Kurds and others.

This family provides a political home for social conservatives and all who believe that Islam must develop its own responses to the challenges of the modern world without provoking a war of civilizations.

The third family includes Westernizers of all stripes, from neo- liberals to Social Democrats to communists. They unite in a strong desire to develop secular institutions, to reduce the role of religion in society and to replace clan and tribal loyalties with individual or class identities.

The fourth, smallest, family could be labeled pan-Arabist. Mainly embraced by Arab Sunnis, this approach holds that Arab-ness (al- urubah) is the core of Iraqi identity — while "Iraqi-ness" is an illusion designed to lure the Iraqis away from the larger Arab family of nations, and Islam is nothing but part of the broader Arab identity.

All these groups include some extremist elements — radical nationalists, jihadists, nativists, etc. But moderates appear to be the majority in each case. That shared moderation is further strengthened by a realization that the people of Iraq will not tolerate a new form of despotism under any label.

All this means that while ideological differences will remain present in the background, they will not be the prime mover of politics in post-liberation Iraq. The coming political battles will be fought on concrete issues, not abstract ideological ones — debating the economic model, foreign policy, the rights of women, etc., rather than rival visions of an ideal society.

Such de-ideologization is an essential step towards democratization in any society. A key task of the new Iraqi leadership would be to de- emphasize ideology and, over time, guide Iraq´s politics towards pragmatism.

One election does not make a democracy. Iraq will need four, five or perhaps even 10 more free elections before it can be sure that it will never again fall victim to any form of despotism. Sunday was simply the first crucial step toward an honest assessment of political forces in Iraq and the creation of conditions for the emergence of a moderate center — without which an enduring democratic process cannot be guaranteed. Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates. (Copyright 2005 NYP Holdings, Inc. 02/02/05)


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