IRAQ: MOVING PAST THE VOTE (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) By AMIR TAHERI 02/02/05)
NEW YORK POST
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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-
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
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
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
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
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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