With regard to the comments on Iraq's elections, I would like to offer a first hand[i] assessment. My comments are based upon first-hand observation of the Iraq transformation, close frequent contact with Iraqis: Shia, Sunni and Kurds, across the country, and discussion with other internationals in Iraq.[ii]
Far from what some naysayers are suggesting about the recent election, I believe they were remarkably successful.
That the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, with all of the tools and levers of power at his disposal, not to mention the influence of the Iranian government, was not able to win is nothing sort of amazing.
That former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was able to win, even though by a slim lead, is in actuality a significant victory. Against his candidacy were the powers of the incumbency, the behind-the-scenes machinations of Iran, and the influence of Shia religious leaders who are interested in seeing Iraq become an Islamic republic.
Voting as they did, Iraqis have made a compelling argument that they are first and foremost nationalists, Iraqis first. Iraqis do not like Iran. Iraqis also cast aside a view that the country is inclined toward a Islamic republic. Rather, Iraqis are saying they want a secular republic, that Islam should stay in the mosque and stay out of the government.
From the aspect of the Iraq campaign, this result is extraordinarily successful. Think: America came to Iraq with the intent of changing the political OS (Operating System). It is not like going from Windows 3.1 to Windows 7; actually the change is from MS-DOS to Ubuntu 9.10. Is this easy -?-NO, is it pretty -?-NO. Is it happening - YES. Nobody said democracy (with a small "d") is easy, governing democratically is a habit, and habits must be learned.
For many, comparing the Iraqi effort against democracy in England, Australia, India or America is but a pale pale reflection. But I'll suggest to you that Iraqis are well on their way toward establishing the first Arab representational government in the middle east. This is not small feat, as governments as widely Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria see such a development as a threat to their very survival.
In Iran, where Persians generally believe they are the smartest in the region, if not the world, there is great concern. The Iranian government is concerned that an Iraqi representational government is building its civil structures on the western border (and a somewhat tainted representational government is building structures on the Eastern border). Also, highly educated and very smart Persians are agitating for the SAME human rights that Iraqis (and to a lesser extent Afghanis) now enjoy. "HEY - WE ARE PERSIANS, how can the ARAB Iraqis have, by degrees, increasing political freedom and we remain under the thumb of the mullahs !?" This is not an unreasonable questions for long-suffering Iranians to ask. Likewise it is a very important quest that we ourselves should be asking.
Nature or nurture-do we believe that political freedom as expressed through democratic institutions and traditions is the best form of human government. I believe that, do you? If you agree with me, then we must ask ourselves why is it that Arab Muslims, and Persian Muslims do not have such. Are they incapable? Is democracy inconsistent with their cultural DNA; that is are they literally incapable of managing their own civil institutions in a democratic framework? Or is it that they have always been nurtured otherwise. This is the great question.
Not working - HA! The election process is working better than anyone's reasonable expectation. It is an extraordinary great pleasure to witness this change first hand.[iii] [i] I came to Iraq here in February 2004, and have been physically located inside Iraq for 48 of the last 72 months. [ii] My observations are just another opinion, sure, but perhaps a view not heard elsewhere. These are personal comments which do not reflect on any organization or government. [iii] I write this Sunday afternoon, after experiencing the multi car bombs earlier this morning. These attacks, while horrific, and the all of the earlier attacks, have not stopped everyday, ordinary Iraqis from going to the polls and doing their civic duty. These Iraqis appreciate and want gift of political freedom that America and allies, through a sacrifice of of almost 5000 Coalition military (almost 4400 US) and numerous civilians, have given. May they all Rest In Peace, secure in the knowledge that their sacrifice, not only is not in vain, but has made possible the most revolutionary change in the middle east in over a millennium.