Thursday, December 14, 2006

Iraqis and Democracy

Peter Sluglett has important thoughts on Iraq:
"Some argue that the neoconservatives’ grand design failed because it was too ambitious, that Iraqis were not ready for democracy, or perhaps that after nearly fifty years of totalitarian rule they were not capable of adjusting to a pluralist political system. There is ample evidence to suggest that this is not so; preliminary data from some provincial elections in 2003 and 2004 suggests that voters were perfectly ready, for example, to vote for candidates who were not from their own sect. In addition it is worth remembering that, despite the tense security situation, 58 percent and 70 percent of eligible voters turned out for the elections of January and December 2005 respectively. The main problem is not so much that Iraqis do not want or are not ready for democracy, but that there is an almost total absence of public security. This is due to the presence of several armed militias, funded by non-Iraqi individuals or groups, with various objectives ranging from Shiite revenge against former members of Saddam’s regime to the extreme anti-Shiism of the Salafis or Wahhabis.

"Efforts to arrest the unfolding tragedy in Iraq should not, therefore, involve a turn away from democracy but rather toward defanging the militias. Apart from trying to restore more or less correct relations with Iran and Syria, the only sensible course of action for the United States at the moment is to try to track down and eliminate the sources of funding for the Sunni insurgency, most of which comes from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, and possibly from Pakistan. With the leverage that will come from better relations with Iran, at least some of the Shiite militias might then be brought under control. At the same time, the United States should spare no effort to build up the Iraqi armed forces. Iraq desperately needs strong institutions to enable the state to survive and to deliver the security that almost all Iraqis long to enjoy."

I think he overestimates the extent to which Iraq's militias have a foreign base of strength, but otherwise his diagnosis of how Iraq descended into chaos seems sound.

(Crossposted to American Footprints.)


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