In the wake of last month’s landmark elections in Iraq, many experts on the region are crossing their fingers in hopes of a lasting democracy in the Mideast nation. Though they are uncertain of the future, many scholars see the elections as an important, albeit flawed, first step.
The polls did not, in fact, represent all of the Iraqi people. Many Sunni Arabs, who make up 20 percent of the population, did not vote on Election Day. Instead, many stayed at home out of fear of violence or to support a boycott organized by clerics opposed to U.S. occupation.
“The results reflect the intimidation and fear the Sunnis have regarding the unstable system of government that they do not have a voice in,” Communication Studies lecturer Lawrence Pintak said.
The election resulted unfavorably for temporary Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the U.S.-backed secular Shiite who has led Iraq for the past eight months. Allawi’s ticket finished a distant third behind the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance and The Kurdistan Alliance.
The United Iraqi Alliance received 4,075,295 votes, roughly 48 percent of all votes cast. The Kurdistan Alliance, an alliance of two Kurdish parties, finished second with 2,175,551 votes, roughly 26 percent. Allawi, who headed the Iraqi List, stood third with 1,168,9343 votes, nearly 14 percent.
Pintak said the overall effectiveness of the election has yet to be determined.
“It is a wildcard now, and anyone who tells you that they can predict what’s going to happen is blowing smoke,” he said.
Pintak said sectional tensions may heighten due to the drastic turn in Iraqi leadership. Shiites were heavily oppressed during Saddam Hussein’s reign but now will control the most seats in the Iraqi legislature.
Sunnis, Pintak said, are constantly fearful that the newly empowered Shiites will dominate the government and seek revenge for the abuses under Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime. The Shiites are afraid Sunnis will rise up in opposition to the new government.
This is perhaps the greatest reason why Shiites are urging the United States to stay in Iraq, communication studies Prof. Charles Krohn said.
“The Shiites, for the moment, want the U.S. to stay because it acts as a buffer against any Sunni insurgency,” Pintak said.
“Until we get a government in Iraq that we can work with, you’re going to see a continuation of a large military presence of the U.S. and Great Britain in Iraq,” Krohn said. “We must stay in Iraq, in my judgment, until Iraqis are capable of taking over and managing the level of insurgency,” he added.
But Pintak said that further U.S. involvement in Iraq is a delicate and complex situation.
Despite the first democratic elections in several decades and a reported 60-percent voter turnout, many in Iraq still contest the legitimacy of the new government and vehemently voice their opposition to further U.S. involvement.
“The insurgents don’t seem to be inhibited by the results of the elections,” Krohn said.
Pintak said although elections are a good sign, the country is very unstable. He added that it still must contend with many issues ranging from how to deal with the oil industry to how to maintain an army.
LSA senior Tania Orandi also said Iraq is still very unstable.
“The fact that insurgents and political groups are not trying to negotiate while still attempting to make a political impact is what is really leading to an unstable political environment,” she said.
Whether the elections are a stepping stone to a stable and lasting democracy in Iraq is uncertain, but they are a beginning, Krohn said.
“The elections are a step in the right direction; it begins a process,” he said.