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

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy