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.

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Read more at Asharq Al-Awsat

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

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war