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.