1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036
On March 7, Iraq held a parliamentary election, its fourth election in five years. The Obama administration was hoping that an orderly and smooth voting process would bolster Iraq's stability and enable U.S. troops to withdraw as planned. Controversies erupted, however, over the now-reversed disqualification of several hundred candidates alleged
Download Audio as MP3 to have ties to the Ba'ath Party. High-profile Sunni leaders threatened to boycott the elections, raising concern of a return to the sectarian violence that followed Iraq's 2005 legislative election. No party was likely to win a majority, and government formation may take months even after a smooth election. It may well become impossible to form a government if election fraud mars balloting.
What is really at stake in the Iraqi parliamentary elections? Will they contribute to the country’s stability or instability? Could these elections alter the U.S. withdrawal timeline? Is the international community prepared to respond to fraudulent elections? If the elections proceed smoothly, how might they alter Iraq’s political horizon? What do these elections mean for Iraq, Arab countries in the region, and the United States? These and other questions were discussed by Scott Carpenter, director of Project Fikra at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress; Carina Perelli, executive vice president of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems; independent Arab affairs analyst Kathleen Ridolfo; and AEI scholar Michael Rubin. AEI's vice president for foreign and defense policy studies, Danielle Pletka, moderated.
|1:00||Panelists:||Scott Carpenter, Washington Institute for Near East Policy|
|Brian Katulis, Center for American Progress
|Carina Perelli, International Foundation for Electoral Systems|
|Kathleen Ridolfo, Independent Arab Affairs Analyst
|Michael Rubin, AEI|
|Moderator:||Danielle Pletka, AEI|
WASHINGTON, MARCH 1, 2010--The Obama administration hopes the March 7 parliamentary elections in Iraq will bolster the country's stability and enable U.S. forces to withdraw on schedule. The elections are already controversial, however. Bombings and political assassinations have been increasing ahead of the polls, and de-Baathification and incumbent disqualifications remain divisive. Postelection disputes could also reignite violence, especially in the weeks or months during which contentious coalition negotiations will occur. At an AEI event March 1, several Iraq experts and election specialists gathered to discuss these issues and to assess how the outcome of the elections will impact Iraqi stability and U.S. policy.
Carina Perelli, the executive vice president of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, opened the debate. She stressed that holding elections is crucial for consolidating Iraq's democratic institutions and improving governance. Ms. Perelli, who helped organize Iraq's first elections after the overthrow of former leader Saddam Hussein, criticized the international community, stakeholders, and the media for being impatient about results; she emphasized that elections should not be understood as isolated events but as part of a long process. She stressed the value of the exercise while also noting the likelihood that Iraq would see an increase of violence and political target killings in advance of election day.
Scott Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was more optimistic about what the elections might mean for Iraq's long-term democracy and stability despite existing problems. He argued that the upcoming elections in Iraq will be about the future, not the past, and the existing electoral system will likely cement the emerging local and regional parties within the broader coalitions that exist; however, he expects it will be difficult to form a governing coalition subsequent to the elections.
Mr. Carpenter, who previously served as the director of governance for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, asserted that Iraqis remain strongly opposed to the Baath party: "There is no one Shia party, or Kurdish party, or Sunni party that really is pro-Baathist or wants to see a return of [the] Baathist party in Iraq." He cautioned the Obama administration against "getting heavily engaged" in the election process or the postelection issues and urged U.S. officials to "be patient and avoid personalizing the issue." He also advised U.S. officials against making public statements that could be misconstrued by different actors in Iraq, citing current commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq Raymond Odierno's recent remark that he has a "plan B" to slow the exit of U.S. combat forces in case Iraqi politics are chaotic after the elections.
Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, defended the Obama administration's "pragmatic" approach in Iraq. "We are still in the midst of a salvage operation, trying to correct mistakes committed particularly from 2003 to 2006," he explained. Mr. Katulis outlined three U.S. policy issues regarding Iraq. First, he said it is "strongly powerful that, on Sunday, Iraqi voters are going to vote." Second, he cautioned that Iraq is far from being a stable democracy. He said there are "worrisome points" jeopardizing Iraq's fragile democracy, such as a lack of transparency in the Iraqi political system; an emphasis in U.S. policy on the security sector that overshadows human-rights issues, especially security and the rights of Christians and other minority groups. Third, he described broader U.S. policy as incoherent, especially in regard to how Iraq policy fits into U.S. strategy in the region.
AEI resident scholar Michael Rubin was critical of U.S. embassy interference in Iraq's judicial affairs. Mr. Rubin, who recently returned from Iraq, where he met with several prominent Shia clerics, criticized the White House and U.S. embassy officials for underestimating anti-Baath sentiment among Iraqis, saying the perception among Iraqis that Baathists might attempt a coup after U.S. forces leave Iraq in 2011 is affecting the Iraqi political debate. He said the Shia leaders he met in Iraq also fear Iran's growing influence in the country, and he added that Iran's influence is not restricted to the Iraqi Shias, but Tehran also supports several Kurdish, Sunni, and ostensibly secular groups. Mr. Rubin agreed with other speakers that postelection coalition building will be a complicated process; he expects government formation to take several months even if the elections go smoothly.
Kathleen Ridolfo, former chief Iraq analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, spoke about the political turmoil prevailing in Iraqi Kurdistan ahead of the polls, especially about "undemocratic events" occurring in Sulaimaniya. She said the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) now holds more power than any other group in the region, because the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by current Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, has been weakened since the Iraqi Kurdistan elections last year. Although the KDP has remained aligned with PUK so far, that might begin to change depending on how Goran (or the change movement) performs in the elections, she added. Ms. Ridolfo noted that people in Kurdistan still consider ethnicity first and political affiliation second when voting. She also expressed concern that sectarianism will remain a threat to democracy and stability in Iraq for a long time.
All panelists agreed that holding elections is essential to consolidating Iraq's fledgling democracy, but they cautioned that a fraudulent election and postelection tension could lead to a resurgence of violence that could complicate the U.S. plan to begin withdrawing troops this summer.
Scott Carpenter is the Keston Family Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and director of Project Fikra, which focuses on empowering Arab democrats in their struggle against extremism. From 2004 to 2007, Mr. Carpenter served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, responsible for overseeing the Middle East Partnership Initiative. Prior to joining the U.S. Department of State, Mr. Carpenter served as the director of the Governance Group for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), helping to guide Iraq's political transition and to initiate a wide array of democracy initiatives. From May 2003 to July 2004, he served as a key adviser to the CPA administrator, facilitating the formation of the Iraqi Governing Council and the first post-Saddam cabinet, the drafting and signing of the Transitional Administrative Law (Iraq's interim constitution), and the establishment of Iraq's first fully sovereign government. He also presided over the design and implementation of the largest democratization effort in one country since the fall of the Berlin wall. Before joining the State Department, Mr. Carpenter worked with the International Republican Institute.
Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where his work focuses on U.S. national security policy in the Middle East and South Asia. Mr. Katulis has served as a consultant to numerous U.S. government agencies, private corporations, and nongovernmental organizations on projects in more than two dozen countries, including Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, and Colombia. From 1995 to 1998, he lived and worked in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Egypt for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. In 1994 and 1995, Mr. Katulis was a Fulbright scholar in Amman, Jordan, where he conducted research on the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Mr. Katulis has published articles in several newspapers and journals, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun, and Middle East Policy, among other publications. He is coauthor of The Prosperity Agenda (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), a book on U.S. national security.
Carina Perelli brings more than fifteen years of democracy and governance experience to her role as executive vice president of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Ms. Perelli enjoyed an extensive and high-profile career with the United Nations, having most recently served as the director of the Electoral Assistance Division responsible for operations in some sixty countries. She played a direct role in the electoral transitions of countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. She also led efforts to develop a comprehensive regional strategy for political and electoral transition in the Middle East. At the United Nations Development Program, Ms. Perelli served as deputy director of the Management Development and Governance Division's Bureau of Policy and Planning. A prolific writer, Ms. Perelli most recently authored a chapter on electoral transitions in Every Vote Counts: The Role of Elections in Building Democracy (University Press of America, 2007).
Danielle Pletka served for ten years as a senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Since coming to AEI, Ms. Pletka has developed a conference series on rebuilding post-Saddam Iraq, directed a project on democracy in the Arab world, and designed a project to track global business in Iran. She recently edited a publication on dissent and reform in the Arab world and coauthored a report on Iranian influence in the Levant, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Ms. Pletka comments frequently on foreign and defense policy issues on television and in major American newspapers.
Kathleen Ridolfo is an independent Arab affairs analyst. From 2002 to 2008, she worked as the Iraq Analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Prague. There she covered Iraq's political, economic, and social developments for the daily publication RFE/RL Newsline and for the weekly RFE/RL Iraq Report. In spring 2007, she coauthored Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War of Images and Ideas, a widely acclaimed report on the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq. Prior to joining RFE/RL, Ms. Ridolfo worked as a research assistant at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Civil-Military Relations. He also teaches a graduate course on Iranian history at Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Rubin is a former editor of Middle East Quarterly. He previously served as an Iran and Iraq country director in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and as a political adviser in the Coalition Provisional Authority. He is the author of two books about Iranian history and politics, most recently Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), and he publishes articles in a range of scholarly and policy journals. Mr. Rubin lectures frequently on the politics, culture, and strategy of Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and South Asian countries to senior military officers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a regular contributor to major U.S. and Middle Eastern newspapers.