(note: you can also catch this piece on the Adventures of Chester, where I'm concluding a four-day stint as a guest blogger. Go there, and if you haven't already, make it a daily habit, like I have.)
As is the wont of things, after the euphoria comes the sobering reminder that a single success does not solve a multitude of problems. Nowhere is this truer than Iraq. With the risk of seeing like dreary chunk of Juan Cole in the Christmas stocking of Iraq's elections, let me outline some of the challenges immediately facing the Land Between the Rivers.
The Kurds. The flashpoint is the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk. Here, Kurds are vying against Sunni Arabs and their Turkomen allies for control of the oil fields of Baba Gurgur. Although Kirkuk technically falls outside Kurdistan, the Kurds have long eyed the city as the capital of an independent nation. When the Iraqi Electoral Commission last month ruled that Kurds displaced by the Baath Party's "Arabization" program could vote in local elections, Arab candidates withdrew. Turkey, meanwhile, is registering ominous objections to Kurdish maneuvering for autonomy. Kurdish Democratic Party leader Massud Barzani hardly helped matters when he announced in a recent interview that "an independent Kurdish state is indeed going to be happening."
The Shia. Of immediate interest is the post-election unity of the victorious Party of Ali. As the Los Angeles Times' Ashraf Khalil notes, the United Iraqi Alliance fused together by Ayatollah Sistani comprises a number of religious and secular Shia groups, many of which--such as Dawa Islamiyya and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq--are traditional rivals. As Khalil observes, a splintering of the slate could provide an opportunity to secularists like Ayad Allawi to pick up some dissenting Shia to form a ruling coalition; on the other hand, a collapse of unity risks weakening the prestige of Sistani (the most unifying figure today in Iraqi politics) and alienating Shia from the democratic process.
Other things to look for: The fate of Moqtada "Mookie" al-Sadr. He was a big loser yesterday--especially because his fatwa to boycott the elections was generally ignored. In the Shia world, one's advancement in influence and power is determined by how many people pay attention to your pronouncements (rather like blogging); he may have slid a ways down the marja totem pole. Also, keep an eye on Ahmad Chalabi. While fighting Defense Minister Shaalan over mutual corruption charges and the Arabists in the State Department and CIA, this consummate in-fighter seems posed to play an important role in the new "secular" face of the Shia leadership. He didn't do much for Iraqi unity last week, however, when he seemed to call for Shia "autonomy" over the oil-rich southern provinces.
The Sunnis. We'll have to see their turn-out totals, especially in areas not dominated by anti-Iraqi forces. If it turns out, as I believe true, that Sunnis wanted to vote, but were prevented by fear, the "voter boycott" was in fact "voter suppression." And this, in turn, could erode the legitimacy of the Muslims Scholar's Association's "leadership"--a positive development. The MSA's politics of resentment, grievance and non-participation in democracy (with the telling exception of oil-rich Kirkuk) echo the PLO tactics and could doom the Sunnis to similar cycles of despair and violence. To save their clerical skins, the MSA and their allies will use any sliver of plausibility to decry the elections as illegitimate (especially if voter turn-out results drop below 50 percent). But even they seem to see less room for maneuvering, as evident in their demands that they have a seat at table when it comes time to hammer out a constitution. Sunnis, thy name is chutzpah.
The Anti-Iraq forces. Allah be praised, they were the biggest losers of the day--although there will no doubt be further attacks. But the political, rhetorical and psychological terrain has changed. In the past, the homegrown Iraqi militants got a lot of mileage from their claims that they fought a "foreign occupation." Whatever little merit that argument possessed has vanished with the election: now the ex-Baathist Saddamites appear in their true light--fascists attempting to overturn a democratic government. At what temperature does the legitimacy of reactionaries burn? Fahrenheit 9-11.
As for the foreign jihadists, Z-Man declared war against the elections and then couldn't stop them. History--despite what would-be restorers of the Caliphate might say--is not on his side. The fighting will continue--that's what jihadists do, after all--but the legitimacy of the mujaheddin has been shot by ballots not bullets, and time will bring an end to their nihilistic bloodshed. This isn't Afghanistan, 1990s, Z-Man, and you're not fighting a doomed dictatorial state. Something you will no doubt reflect upon when you're sitting in an Iraqi prison, as you will most surely be soon.
The Left. Hopeless. Shameful. History will record that the U.S. could have saved tremendous loss of life and treasure had we liberated Iraqi with more troops and a proper "after-victory" plan. But the chronicles will also show that America could have saved time, money and--most especially, lives--had the Left contributed its valuable resources to the liberation effort as well. Imagine if feminists, labor leaders, environmentalists, civil rights activists, artists and the media had joined in the struggle instead of sitting on the sidelines--or worse, assisting the fascists? Imagine if the clarion cry of freedom and democracy had arisen from a unified progressive front consisting of conservatives and liberals? Just as we've learned how much succor the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong took from the anti-war protesters of the 1960s, we will someday learn how the parochial, small-minded, narrow-souled opposition to the establishment of democracy in Iraq stiffen the fascist backbone of the "insurgency." But of course, the Michael Moores, Robert Fisks, George Galloways, Ted Kennedys and innumerable Hollywood celebrities and academics of this world will not care--they will always find reporters, voters, fans and tenure committees willing to dull the sting of conscience.
Our soldiers. Job well done. But it ain't over till its over. And it won't be over until Iraq reaches one benchmark: the government has the monopoly on violence. In other words, not until an Iraqi army and police force takes the guns away--literally or metaphorically--from the country too-many armed militias can our men and women go home.
The Iraqi people. From now on, we will identify the true Iraqi Resistance fighter as an average man or woman brandishing the weapon of a blue-tipped index finger.
Bloggers. I can't imagine how the liberation of Iraq would have progressed without the hundreds, the thousands, of blogs that cut through the anti-war bias of the MSM. By giving a voice to people and viewpoints which otherwise would have gone silent, bloggers helped articulate the cause of democracy and civil rights that lies at the base of this conflict. Which make me wonder: how would bloggers have affected the course of Vietnam War?
On that note, I will close out my guest appearance on Chester. I can't thank Josh enough for the opportunity to address you all. I only hope my contributions added something to your appreciation of the war, the election and the Iraqi people. Now, with a wave of my own blue-tipped fingertips, I shall bid you farewell.