With the almost synchronized approach of
the Coalition Authority’s June 30 handover date and the
November election, the mainstream media has shifted its focus to
the final item on the Bush Administration’s Iraqi occupation
checklist: the restoration of self-government. Predictably, in the
backdrop of this new spotlight on democratic transition rests an
ambiance of cynicism and doubt — mounting uncertainties that
have engendered the proliferation of worn-out political talk show
banalities like “we’re handing over authority on June
30, we just don’t know to who.” While much of the
skepticism concerning the precarious transition process is on
target, for the most part, pundits and analysts alike have failed
to come to terms with the true scale and gravity of the United
States’ predicament. Indeed, it is not the question of who to
cede power to, but rather the quandaries surrounding how to devolve
it, that lie at the source of the Bush Administration’s
irresolution. It is only now, in the midst of escalating violence
and the spread of internally rupturing ethnic cleavages that the
United States is beginning to feel the weight of the baggage that
accompanies the role of Global Sheriff. This degenerating political
atmosphere has brought a sobering reality to both Bush’s
re-election aspirations and his pre-war visions of an open and
unfettered system of sovereignty in Iraq. As hopes for stability in
Iraq continue to deteriorate, the President’s capacity to
fulfill his vow of delivering democracy to the Iraqi masses
steadily diminishes.

Sam Singer

Operation Iraqi Freedom has been plagued by its abundance of
strategic blunders and unforeseen roadblocks, yet to this point, no
miscalculation has been greater than the Bush
Administration’s underestimation of the central role internal
cultural dynamics would play in the reconstruction period.
Volatility within Iraq continues to intensify as embattled and
polarized ethnic blocs struggle to broaden their niche in the
post-war power vacuum. The once repressed Shiites, who make up the
majority of the population, are demanding majoritarianism and
direct representation — considering any indulgence to Sunni
appeals for proportional representation deplorable. To this point,
the preponderance of the Shiite population has tolerated U.S.
occupation, but protracted violence and instability continue to
vindicate the fanaticism of the more extreme critics who once
remained on the periphery.

Resting poised just across the battleground is Iraq’s
besieged population of Sunni Muslims. The Sunnis fear that their
hopes of political representation were deposed alongside
Saddam’s Baath Party, and in turn, have unrelentingly
demonstrated their apprehension of Shiite ascendancy. A wide margin
of this vocal and often unruly minority ardently begrudges U.S.
occupation and often uses violence to convey its resentment. As the
conditions in central Iraq continue to regress, even the most
restrained Sunni Muslims are growing uneasy. Unfortunately for the
Coalition Authority, failing to assuage desperate and incensed
Sunnis often means bolstering the frontline forces of al-Qaida and
other militant organizations.

Along with the antithetical demands of the Sunni and Shiite
divisions, the Provisional Authority must allay the concerns of
Iraq’s Kurdish population. The once-subjugated Kurds of
Northern Iraq have in effect demanded autonomy — a request
that if fulfilled, could spark attendant succession movements and
pervasive instability.

Iraq’s capricious and ethnically charged environment is
one hardly welcoming to open and competitive elections. Almost
certainly, political parties would be defined down religious lines
and would further accentuate already rigid and antagonistic
divisions. There is a clear risk that an electoral free-for-all
would further inflame this hot-blooded climate. But would a less
representative or more authoritative process really fare any
better? As if this nation’s benevolence hasn’t been
questioned enough, a failure to punctually and legitimately yield
authority would shatter U.S. credibility and embolden
anti-occupation forces throughout Iraq. In either case, the United
States will feel the singe of democracy’s double-edged sword
— whether it comes in the form of internal ethnic strife or
collective condemnation.

Singer can be reached at

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