Democracy Far Off for Iraqis
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
Japan's political leaders welcomed the early hand-over of "sovereignty" to Iraq today conveying hopes that this will be the first step toward stability and democracy. The Yomiuri newspaper echoed these sentiments in its editorial of June 29th calling the transfer of power "an important step towards Iraqi reconstruction" and characterized it as a critical event "signifying that the political process towards democracy is beginning." U.S. and European officials received the news with similar hopes as most expressed the desire that Iraq would eventually emerge as a democratic country. Significantly, however, a brief survey of reactions voiced by several neighboring Arab governments indicates that they have made no reference to democracy in their official statements on the hand-over.
Through spokeswomen Asma Khader the Jordanian government said the following, "Jordan welcomes this development and considers it a step towards rebuilding political, economic, security and social institutions in Iraq. We hope this will lead to stability and improving the security situation in Iraq. We hope that the transfer of authority will be a step toward ending the occupation and restoring Iraqi unity and territorial integrity" (CNN, June 28). Notably the word democracy was absent from the statement. More alarmingly, if we are to take the words literally, the reference to "rebuilding political, economic, security and social institutions in Iraq" is frightening considering that re-building implies the establishment of an order that existed previously.
From Kuwait, Prime Minister Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah issued the following comment again excluding any mention of democracy. "We hope this will lead to stability and improving the security situation in Iraq. We hope that the transfer of authority will be a step toward ending the occupation and restoring Iraqi unity and territorial integrity" (CNN, June 28). In his statement, the Kuwaiti prime minister placed importance on keeping Iraq one unit, obviously negating self-determination for the Kurds.
Ironically, the most 'pro-democratic' statement I came across was issued by Iran's spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh who said that, "We welcome any step toward the transfer of Iraqi affairs to the Iraqi people and the termination of occupation. (CNN, June 28). Considering Iran's anti-democratic government, however, it is unlikely that Ramezanzadeh was promoting democracy in Iraq. Rather, for Iran, the most important aspect of the hand-over was the "diminished" presence of the United States in its neighboring country.
Considering that Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair, Mr. Koizumi along with other supporters of the occupation have maintained that their ultimate goal is to transform the region by starting with a democratic Iraq, the statements above reflecting on the first visible step towards sovereignty is not encouraging and is likely a sign of more resistance to follow.
There is even debate in the United States as to whether the transfer of administrative authority to Iraqis constitutes a transition towards democracy, at least in the short term. According to the New York Times, President Bush has stated that U.S. led forces would back martial law if it were installed by the Iraqi interim Prime Minister Allawi (June 28). This discussion, however, seems meaningless considering that Iraq has already been under virtual martial law since the invasion. Iraqi's have few civil rights today and military considerations have total precedence. Repeated house bust-ins and mass arrests and incommunicado detentions are testimony to this fact. The insecurity has also placed a curfew on the entire country. According to most newspaper reports it is common for women and children to stay in their homes all day long for fear of their lives. Only the husband or father wanders out for basic necessities. In that sense little will change if Allawi declares martial law making the likelihood of democracy in the near future dismal.
New Zealand's Herald Tribune has reminded us of a frightening prospect as it drew upon history to consider the fate of prime minister Allawi as he goes about his job. Gwynne Dyer reintroduced the figure of Nuri Said who was London's puppet in Iraq until 1958 and ended up being dragged through the streets and killed by a mob. In her article ("Grisly History Lesson For Allawi"), Dyer argued that Allawi may be even more compromised than Said ever was considering that it is the U.S. that pays all his bills. Furthermore, understanding that the fate of president Bush's re-election depends largely on how Mr. Allawi performs over the next five months, one can legitimately ask the question as to whether the Iraqi interim prime minister's main task will be to work to please Bush or to respond to the will of the Iraqi people? If both go hand-in-hand, there will be few quibbles, however, if one supercedes the other, there will be trouble.
As the British prime minister Blair stated after the transfer of power was announced, Iraq is "in a genuine sense the frontline of the battle against terrorism." Establishing a democracy in such circumstances is a significant challenge that Mr. Allawi will have much difficulty fulfilling, particularly since the hand-over is largely viewed, both by Iraqi's and outsiders, as a symbolic gesture. Japan has committed the fate of its troops to this enterprise by placing them on the "frontline" in the battle against terrorism, an act that is in obvious contravention of the limits drawn by its pacific constitution. The United States, Britain and other allies have also promised to keep their forces engaged. In such a situation, one can state with considerable certainty that the Iraqi people will have to wait a long time before their voices are heard and their will is served by the Iraqi government.