Iraqi Models and Scenarios New and Old

Back in the 1950’s a relative of mine who worked for the Iraqi foreign ministry chose a destination for his next assignment at the Iraqi Embassy in Kabul, I asked him why did he chose Afghanistan when he could have chosen more fun destinations like in Europe? He said because Afghanistan has a society and geography very similar to Iraq’s and whatever happens in one is likely to happen in the other. Iraq and Afghanistan are models and bellwether of each other. That was simple and meaningful enough for my ten year-old mind at the time. Models are powerful analogies capable of conveying much information by transforming complex but familiar ideas to the unfamiliar situation. But such political models by their very nature can be deceptive and simplistic because they emphasize the similarities and neglect the differences.
Before the Iraq invasion there were at least two possible scenarios for democracy in the future of Iraq: The Turkish and the Israeli models. In the Turkish model, democracy relied on a strong secular army to watch over government policies and to prevent non-democratic extremes and strongly non-secular Islamist take-overs. Since one of the first actions of occupation was to dissolve the secular Iraqi army, the Turkish model was evidently abandoned in favor of the Israeli model.
Israel is the Hebrew state; its democracy is unique in reflecting its overwhelming religious character. Jewish religious extremism is accommodated, tolerated and shares political power. Mechanisms for controlling extremism is not widely used or well developed, e.g. the government stand against widespread illegal settlement is invariably a hot political issue. Iraq, on the other hand, has always had a diverse religious and ethnic society with an eye for controlling extremism. The historical survival of so many faiths and ethnicities is unparalleled, clearly Iraq did not have the melting pot or ethnic cleansing on a wide scale in the past, for example the percentage of indigenous Jewish population of Baghdad at the turn of the twentieth century was 30-40%. The continuous survival of generations of Iraqi Jews over three millennia was not accomplished by tolerating and accommodating extremism. The Israeli model of democracy lacks the mechanisms necessary to control extremism from its own people.
The question now is: What will happen next in Iraq? Lets narrow the scope to possible scenarios in the south of Iraq. Separation, loose federation and chaos are still possibilities but history has a habit of repeating itself, and Iraq’s Sunnis and Shia’s stayed together for a very long time. During the first Gulf War, Saddam was counting on the support of the Arab minority in Iran, his hopes did not materialize and Iran’s Arabs largely ignored his incentives and eventually turned against him. I believe this scenario is the mirror model of what will happen in Iraq; most of Iraq’s Shia will eventually stand against separation and loose federation, but there are two elements of uncertainties: First the high level of violence leads to the polarization of attitudes and emotionalism which translates to uncertainty of the outcome. Second, the last parliamentary elections created a situation where coercion, extremism and possible fraud are tolerated (for more discussion see The Trouble with Dictatorship post in this blog, ). This kind of tolerance undermines democracy and sends the wrong message; that you can get away with bullying the voters and cheating the process. This not only encourages inter sectarian strife but foments intra sectarian violence and allows the more extreme factions to dominate over the moderates. Conversely, tightening of the democratic rules with the U.N. oversight over the process reduces the chance of violence, allows the peaceful emergence of consensus and saves lives. This is the ultimate motivation behind the Petition to the U.N., a step such as the proposed is more urgent, more meaningful and more achievable than the numerous calls for U.S. military withdrawal in a hurry. Please sign the petition.

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