There’s Still Hope for Democracy in Iraq, but Rushing into Elections Won’t Help

Feb. 27 2018

Iraq’s prospects of sustaining a democratic system of government have attracted much cynicism; nonetheless, argues Amir Taheri, the still-young regime is off to a promising start—even if its progress is threatened by Iranian meddling and by the disruption caused by Islamic State (IS). While some Iraqis have moved to postpone national elections, scheduled for May, both Tehran and Washington have urged against doing so. To Taheri, this is a mistake on the part of the U.S.:

Because Iraqi democracy is still young and fragile, every election in that country must be handled with extra care. . . . The four provinces that bore the brunt of the war against successive terrorist groups, the latest being IS, lack the infrastructure for proper campaigning, not to mention establishing voter registers, setting up polling stations, and ensuring adequate supervision of voting. . . .

Another problem concerns the presence of numerous armed groups of different religions, sects, and ethnic backgrounds in eight of the eighteen provinces. In some places, Mosul for example, unofficial control exercised by these groups in the absence of the regular army and government police could render campaigning, voting, and the counting of votes problematic. [To make matter worse], militias . . . believed to be controlled by Iran operate as political parties, [in violation of] Iraqi election law. . . .

[T]he most important argument in favor of postponement is the growing trend away from sectarian politics with the emphasis shifting away from ethnic and religious concepts to the all-inclusive concept of uruqa (Iraqi-ness). Encouraging moves in this direction are already under way, leading to hopes that a majority of Iraqi political parties and groups may be moving away from the sectarian system of sharing parliamentary seats introduced . . . after the fall of Saddam Hussein. However, such a process requires more time to produce lasting results. . . .

Contrary to what the Trump administration seems to think, U.S. interests are not best served by hastily held elections, the results of which may be contested by significant segments of Iraqi opinion. . . . A united and strong Iraq could emerge as a rival or even a threat to Iran. A democratic Iraq could become a tempting model for Iran, where Shiites also form a majority. A weak Iraq could become fertile ground for Arab Sunni armed groups dedicated to sectarian jihad.

Read more at Asharq Al-Awsat

More about: Arab democracy, Iran, Iraq, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

To Undermine Russian and Iranian Influence in Syria, the U.S. Must Go on the Offensive

March 22 2018

When Iranian-lead, pro-Assad forces attacked U.S. allies in Syria last month, they found themselves quickly overwhelmed by American firepower. The incident, writes Tony Badran, makes clear that the U.S. has the capability to push back against the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. By taking a more aggressive approach while working closely with Israel, Badran argues, Washington can at once prevent Russia and Iran from cementing their control of Syria and avoid getting drawn into a wider conflict:

Israeli assets can augment U.S. capabilities considerably. A few days after the skirmish in Deir Ezzour in February, Iran flew a drone into Israeli air space. Israel responded by destroying the Iranian command center at the Tiyas military air base near Palmyra, and then proceeded to bomb a large number of Iranian and Assad-regime targets. The episode again underscored the vulnerability of Iran, to say nothing of the brittle Assad regime. Close coordination with Israel to expand this ongoing targeting campaign against Iranian and Hizballah infrastructure, senior cadres, and logistical routes, and amplifying it with U.S. assets in the region, would have a devastating effect on Iran’s position in Syria.

By going on the offensive, the U.S. will also strengthen Israel’s hand with Russia, reducing Jerusalem’s need to petition the Kremlin and thereby diminishing Moscow’s ability to position itself as an arbiter on Israeli security. For instance, instead of haggling with Russia to obtain its commitment to keep Iran five or seven kilometers away from the Israeli border, the U.S. could adopt the Israeli position on Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and assist Israel in enforcing it. Such a posture would have a direct effect on another critical ally, Jordan, whose role is of high importance in southern Syria and in the U.S. zone in the east.

Assad and Iran are the scaffolding on which the Russian position stands. Targeting them, therefore, undercuts Moscow and reduces its leverage. By merely forcing Russia to respect Israeli and Jordanian needs on the border, the U.S. would undermine Russia’s attempt, more generally, to leverage its position in Syria to make headway into the U.S. alliance system. In addition to adopting a more offensive military posture, the U.S. should also intensify the economic chokehold on Assadist Syria.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy