Who would have expected to see the head of a Sunni tribe like Ghazi al-Jarba become an ally in a political electoral alliance with the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq? Or at the same time to see al-Jarba’s cousin, Nawaf al-Jarba, join a different coalition, this one being led by Jawad al-Bolani? Or to see a secularist affiliated to Iran such as Ahmed Chalabi with a Sunni from the Al-Anbar Awakening movement like Hamid al-Hayess, [together] in Ammar al-Hakim’s [National Iraqi] Alliance? Or to see a liberal Shiite like Iyad Allawi leading a team of Sunnis such as Tariq al-Hashimi and Osama al-Nujaifi? Even the current Prime Minister, whose opponents have branded as being sectarian, went to the elections today at the head of a heavyweight list of Sunnis and secularist Shiites, and his electoral list includes such figures as Sunni Islamist Sheikh Ali al-Hatim of the al-Anbar Awakening movement, Shiite Kurd Taher al-Feili, and Shiite secularist Mahdi al-Hafez.
These examples clearly show the nature of the political development that has taken place in the political arena in Iraq, and the picture today is very different from that prior to the 2005 elections. During that time, sectarian and racial extremism were dominating the scene in a way that led to pessimism and fears for the future. The Sunnis were enclosed upon themselves in the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front, while the religious Shiite parties were also joined together in one alliance; today such fronts and alliances have disintegrated. This development is natural, healthy, and necessary, and [will continue] if there is no military intervention, [electoral] disruption or large-scale vote tampering. The voters have discovered that religious leadership is not necessary for successful administration or political integrity, while in turn the candidates have discovered that sectarianism is not a permanent game and that both the Sunni and Shiite voters want electricity, clean water, and jobs.
This is how – in the end – everybody has discovered that it is national interest that unites the voters. This is how democracy is useful to a multi-ethnic and multi-sect nation like Iraq. Interests, not sects, is what unites the citizens, and their needs, local services, improving their lives and providing them with security, is something that is more important than any historical or religious feuding. We do not want to say, even now, that the Iraqi citizens have reached political maturity, until after we see evidence of this, especially as these are only the second elections. However we can note that the Iraqi citizens’ second electoral experience is today taking place with distinction with regards to the electoral lists and coalitions and the language of the political discourse. This is development that the Iraqis deserve to be congratulated on.
There are no reasons for concern today with regards to who wins or loses the elections, for all the different coalitions and parties, with their names and programs, deserve to take the leadership position that is being [electorally] contested today. If there is any reason to fear, it is from the regional conflicts that are being played out in Iraq, particularly after the electoral results are revealed. Whether al-Maliki remains Prime Minister for another four years or whether Allawi or al-Jaafari or another comes to power, the country’s foreign relations will remain hostage to a variety of circumstances. I hope that the countries in the region accept the fact that Iraq is on its way to complete independence and that the Iraqis have politically matured, and that it is in everyone’s interests to deal with Iraq accordingly, rather than treating the country as a banana republic that can be threatened by terrorism or blackmailed by religious incitement or financial rewards.