The results are posted and in the Land Between the Rivers, the deal-making has begun. By all accounts, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is out, Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani are in, while secular Shia leader and on again-off again U.S. ally Ahmad Chalabi is proving adept at clinging to the greasy pole of post-Saddam Iraqi power. (As for the Sunnis, we can only heave a collective sigh, quel dommage...)
Also demonstrating a keen--perhaps cunning is a better word--grasp of the shifting terrain of power is Moqtada al-Sadr, whom I mistakenly counted out after the elections: according to Dexter Filkins in yesterday's Times, the chipmunk-cheeked cleric and his allies "appear likely to emerge as the largest single block inside the Shiite alliance with as many as 21 seats." Infuriating, to say the least, considering he is responsible for the murders of innumerable Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers, and perhaps a pro-American Ayatollah or two...
Nor should we overlook the person whom I still believe will probably remain the behind-the-scenes power-broker, SCIRI head Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.
All of this raises fears of Islamist domination of Iraq, manifested in close Iranian ties and the imposition of shari'a over at least the southern portion of the country. Indeed, Basra has already fallen under strict fundamentalist control. Should the Shia prove less responsible than they have to this point, and try to "Basra-ize" the rest of the nation, civil war could erupt. (This, on top of other explosive issues involving the Kurds, Kirkuk and the collection and distribution of oil money.)
In this interval between ballot victories and cabinet formation, what fascinates me are reactions from foreign observers--especially those who are turning their political convictions inside-out in order to discredit the Bush Administration. A standard bit of this fare is "Have Iraqis voted for a dictatorship?" asked by Muqtedar Khan in the Pakistani newspaper Daily Star. And the ever-dependable Juan Cole rounds up various pundits--for example, Robin Wright in yesterday's Washington Post, Stanley Reed in Business Week --who point out that the Shia victors of the elections are not exactly the Jeffersonian democrats Washington hoped would take the reins of power. This, of course, is the left's fall-back position on Iraq: okay, the election went well, but before you war-mongering, Bush-excusing, in-the-pocket-of-Israel-and-Halliburton neo-conservative Christian triumphalists declare victory, look what you've wrought--a dictatorship in Iraq!
Yes, yes. And where were these hand-wringing liberals during the Vietnam War? When younger and more hirsute Coles of the day marched in solidarity with the NLF, did these concerns about totalitarianism not seem conspicuously absent? If academics are so concerned about the loss of civil liberties, why do they continue to idolize Fidel Castro--not to mention Saint Che of Rosario? Foucault, let us remember, endorsed the 1979 Iranian Revolution. A few years later, when we young punk rockers were dancing to the Clash, did we ever concern ourselves with the Communist dictatorship they championed in Nicaragua? Later still, how many leftists looked with alarm at Hong Kong's absorption by the fascist People's Republic of China?
Once again, Iraq seems to fall outside the humanitarian regard of the left. Among these bien pensants, reactionary gunmen are called "insurgents" or the "resistance" while a man brave enough to stand up to the fascists is considered a U.S. "puppet." Then, astonishingly, when the Iraqis actually elect a government--no puppets, these Shias leader, nicht wahr?--these same voices look upon the victors with skepticism and fear.
The hypocrisy cuts both ways, of course. Neo-cons now talk the talk of free elections and feminism and civil rights--the very foundation blocks of democracy they put out of reach of other countries for decades during the Cold War, and continue to do so with nations like Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. But at least we are on the correct side of history now--at least we stand for something. The left put its energies into opposing the invasion of Iraq; it gave--and gives--tacit moral support to those who "resist" the liberation and reconstruction of the country; it poo-pooed elections and is now trying to downplay the results. What does it want? What alternatives does it put forth? What does it bring to the discussion of the war and democracy besides a morbid and increasingly disquieting obsession with the "carnage"--to use Professor Cole's favorite word. Where was their concern for the death of innocent people when the Communist Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia into a mass slaughter house?
The irony, of course, is that for all its faults and the imperfections of process and results, the Bush Administration is doing exactly what the left demanded of Washington during the Cold War: let nations determine their own course. If that course produces a Communist dictatorship, that is acceptable; should it produce any other form of government, that, apparently, is not. Again, I ask: why is Iraq different?
I don't mean to diminish the threat of an Islamic dictatorship: it is indeed a serious issue, one that America's right- and left-wing progressives should unite to oppose. I asked Nour a couple of days ago how she felt about the elections; with typical succinctness, she replied, "I feel terrible. I see what the religious parties are doing to my liberal Basra." No, the radical green flag flying over the citadels of Sindbad's former port of call is not a happy development. It may be, however, the development a majority of the Iraqi people want. And, this in turn, presents us with a dilemma involving majority will, civil rights, the notion of "illiberal democracy"--and perhaps the Arab mindset in general. Sugar-coating matters in order to support the Bush Administration, or using it to bludgeon the architects of the war does nothing for America--and even less for the Iraqi people.
UPDATE: Abbas Kadhim lists the percentage of women members of the new Assembly, per party slate. A total of 58 about of 275 gives a percentage of over 20 percent. (Notice the UIA: 32 percent; also note that the Kurds, who oppose shari'a did not hold to the "one-third" women rule). For the record, 79 women hold seats in the U.S. Congress, for a total of 14.8 percent.