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August 06, 2008

Iraqi Parliament Adjourns Without Passing Election Law
Posted by Shawn Brimley

The Iraqi parliament failed to bring the draft election law to a vote today, almost surely dashing the much-anticipated prospect of provincial elections in 2008. This is very bad news, and threatens the fragile and reversible security gains seen in recent months. This from the New York Times:

The provincial council elections are seen by many, including the United States, as a crucial step toward reconciliation among Iraq's political factions. The negotiations are being closely watched in the United States, and President Bush has personally called Iraqi political leaders urging them to find a solution.

The announcement that Parliament was adjourning without an agreement — made by the speaker, Mahmoud Mashhadani — took many lawmakers by surprise and cast doubt on whether the elections would be held this year.

"We entered the hall because we had already made a deal to vote for that law and we were astonished that the session is finished," said Fouad Massoum, a Kurdish politician.

Mr. Mashhadni announced the formation of a committee that would continue working toward an agreement alongside representatives from the United Nations, which has been actively involved in trying to find a solution. He raised the possibility of an exceptional session of Parliament to meet sometime during the recess, which ends on September 9.

I just returned from a trip to Iraq, and while I will post more on that later, a nearly unanimous view among Iraqis I talked to was the paramount importance of proceeding with provincial elections. Particularly for the Sunni community, for whom the Iraq Islamic Party are considered largely "Green Zone" politicians with little actual basis of support among the population, provincial elections were seen as a critical step in bringing Sunnis into the government. Moreover, for many Sunnis, the so-called Awakening Councils along with the Sons of Iraq, helped bring the some semblance of security to their communities, and the elections were seen as an opportunity for them to transition from local political and security organizations into the mainstream of Iraqi political leadership. With these elections now in doubt, it is unclear how these groups will react to the IIP and the Maliki government.

Provincial elections were also seen as a critical vehicle to beginning absorbing some of the more mainstream Sadrist leaders into the government. Many Sadrists were planning on running in the elections and the prospect of being shut out for some time to come will not go over well. Likewise in the north, the elections were seen as a way to address both the status of Kirkuk and the festering Arab-Kurdish tensions in Mosul – parts of which are still very much a war zone.

The failure to hold provincial elections in 2008 or 2009 will threaten the fragile security gains we've seen in Iraq, which were accomplished with great cost and sacrifice. Sustainable security in Iraq is simply not possible without holding safe and fair provincial elections. Today's failure to pass an election law reinforces my view that our political strategy in Iraq is lagging far behind our security strategy.


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In a odd way the surge actually made the security situation worse in Iraq. The surge was not really needed in the Sunni areas due to the participation of the Sons of Iraq and the Awakening Councils going against AQI. However the surge of American troops did provide Maliki the support he needed in order to crush the Sadrists in Basra and Baghdad. This in turn made Maliki and his party confidant that they could delay the elections and suppress not only the Sadrists but also the Awakening Council members and the Kurds in the near future. The end result of Maliki's moves is likely to be an Iraqi civil war unless American troops pull out fast enough and Maliki is forced to negotiate with his enemies on an equal playing field.

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