Monday, May 3, 2010

Prospects for Stable Democracy in Iraq, Part I

Since the U.S. invasion that overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq recently concluded its second national election in March 2010. After seven long years of occupation in which U.S. troop levels peaked at 160,000 in 2007, the United States is set to withdraw another 50,000 troops by the end of August 2010, which will reduce its presence to about 49,000. Iraqis will be in charge of their own security.

During the past seven years, the U.S. government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on military activities and development programs. Military intervention was initially justified on the grounds of preventing Hussein from developing and using weapons of mass destruction. Since then, U.S. policy has sought to develop Iraq as a stable, multi-ethnic democracy of Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and other smaller groups. Iraq has adopted a new constitution, had two national elections, and established a multi-ethnic cabinet and parliament.

Given the historical animosities among the groups, in which the minority Sunni ruled over the majority Shia for centuries, the stability of the multi-ethnic coalition has been tenuous. The governing coalition has found it difficult to resolve such issues as sharing oil revenue, bringing low-level Baathists into the government, disarming ethnic militias, establishing an equitable, honest system of delivering public services, and building up unified military and police forces. It is too early to foretell the future of Iraq, but evidence from other multi-ethnic countries indicates that achieving and sustaining a harmonious, multi-ethnic democracy will not be easy. With luck and hard work, the country will develop into a stable democracy. Other outcomes include separation such as federation or confederation, with the most extreme outcome the division of Iraq into three countries.

The series of posts that follow review examples of multi-ethnic countries that collapsed into civil war, strife, and division. These posts are intended to illuminate possible outcomes in Iraq when most or all U.S. troops have been withdrawn. Details on the history and political development of each example can be found in Politics in Plural Societies, first published in 1972 and updated and reissued in 2007.

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