Iraq’s Critical Election

BLOOMINGTON – Iraqis go to the polls on March 7 to elect a new Parliament for the second time under the country’s permanent constitution of 2006. Many scholars believe that it is the second general election, not the first, which is the most important test of any new democracy. If so, these elections appear to foreshadow ominous times ahead.

The security situation in Iraq has deteriorated dramatically over the past six months. Though much of the violence in Iraq over the past six years has been random, aimed at soft targets such as markets and restaurants, its nature changed last summer.

On August 19, 2009, the sixth anniversary of the bombing that killed the United Nations representative in Baghdad, a series of spectacular attacks were carried out. These bombings, and others since, have targeted the Iraqi state and its infrastructure, including the ministries of finance and foreign affairs and municipal and judicial offices. Moreover, as United States troops have lowered their profile, daily violence of the more random variety has increased.

Equally ominous, the banning of hundreds of candidates for alleged ties to the Baath Party signals a return to sectarian politics, which could reignite a sectarian civil war. The individuals banned include the current defense minister and several members of parliament. The message from Iran’s allies in Iraq, who control the de-Baathification process, is clear. While some Shia who were prominent allies of the Baathist regime hold positions of great influence in the “new” Iraq, Sunnis will never know when they will be shut out of the process, especially if they become too powerful.