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Published: Sunday, 11/15/2009

Iraq's elections

IRAQ'S parliament moved forward on both national elections and U.S. troop withdrawal by passing an election law last weekend.

For better or worse, the Obama Administration had tied its drawdown - from 120,000 troops to 50,000 by next August - to the Iraqis successfully holding elections in January. The vote had been set for Jan. 16, but may be moved to later in the month because of the late passage of the law. The linkage between the elections and the U.S. pullout was a potentially disastrous invitation to various ethnic and political elements to try to delay both.

Prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation in 2003, Iraq had been ruled from its independence in 1932 by its Sunni Muslim minority, which represents 20 percent of the population. The Shiites and Kurds generally had been excluded from decision-making. With the United States organizing elections based on one person-one vote, the Shiite majority, with 60 percent of the population, became dominant in the government. The Kurds, with the remaining 20 percent, had been favored and protected by the Americans since the first Gulf war in 1991.

The Shiites and Kurds are nervous about the U.S. withdrawal because of concerns that the Sunnis will attempt a return to the former status quo. On that basis, the two groups had reason to try to pursue their interests through the new election law and thereby delay the elections and the troop withdrawal.

It is bizarre that some Iraqis might want to keep U.S. forces there longer than necessary, given that we are an occupying army, but that seems to be the case. Occupied peoples like the Iraqis are sometimes adept at using foreign armies to further their own interests.

Regardless, after substantial U.S. pressure, the Iraqi parliament passed its election law, and the balloting can go forward. This action amounts to a diplomatic triumph for the Obama Administration.



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