In all asymmetric wars there comes a time when the tide definitely turns against one side or the other. History, or the gods of Mount Olympus, get tired of the game and decide to pick a winner. Military experts call it the tipping point. This does not mean that all fighting suddenly comes to a halt. Nor does it mean that the loser would necessarily throw in the towel. What it means is that after the “tipping point”, the loser has no prospect of restoring the balance of power without which no war continues for long.
In Algeria, the tipping point came in 1995 with its first free multi-candidate presidential election. I think that the tipping point Iraq, too, came with the election, that produced the country’s first freely chosen government under Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. All terrorist and reactionary forces had pooled their resources to make sure those elections won’t happen. The courage of the Iraqi people proved stronger.
However, in 2005 not many shared my view because the debate over Iraq had sharply divided the world before the war had begun. Unconsciously, many people of goodwill wanted new Iraq to fail, which meant a win for terrorists; not because they loved Al Qaeda but because they hated George W Bush.
Now that the Bush presidency moves towards its close, many opponents of new Iraq, especially in the West and Arab countries, are beginning to admit that new Iraq is not failing.
Some are even expressing joy about the fact that Al Qaeda and Jaish al-Mahdi and other terror gangs have been defeated.
As long as Bush doesn’t get the credit, all is OK. Maybe President Barack Obama will end up claiming credit for the success in a speech in Baghdad, ending with a phrase in Arabic: I am a Baghdadi! Since Obama sees himself as a new John F Kennedy, he would have no qualms about imitating JFK who ended a speech in Berlin with the famous phrase: Ich bin ein Berliner!
Anyway, what matters is that today even the most determined critics of the war are beginning to admit, albeit grudgingly, that Iraq might not be the quagmire they have claimed it was since 2003.
Even Obama now admits that although there are not “many good options” in Iraq, there may be some!
One such good option, of course, is to remain committed until new Iraq’s institutions are solidified, its security fully assured, and its economy put back on track.
All that is the good news.
Now for the bad news; yes, as always and everywhere, there is some.
The elections that gave the new system legitimacy, thus helping bring about the tipping point, is beginning to fade in Iraqi memories. In a democracy, mandates need to be renewed, sometimes faster than the governing elite hopes. The “one man, one vote, once “scheme has no place in democracy.
The Iraqi parliament and government are fast approaching their sell-by date. (Many believe they have passed it).
This should not be taken as a criticism of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki whom history is likely to remember as a courageous leader in a difficult time. However, successful or unsuccessful, the incumbents need to be put to the test of popular will again and soon.
There are several reasons for this.
First, the last two elections were, in fact, census operations on a national scale. They were designed to reveal the relative strength of the ethnic and religious communities that together make up the Iraqi nation. The system of voting for lists of candidates was inevitable in a country that had never had free elections and had lived under the most brutal dictatorship since 1958. People could not know individual candidates because Saddam Hussein had not allowed anyone to acquire a political profile.
Now, however, political parties of all description, from monarchist to communist and passing by nationalist, liberal, conservative, Islamist and socialist, have had five years in which to make themselves known and build a support base. In Iraq today, it is possible to vote for party programmes rather than bloc lists of ethnic and/or religious identity.
Second, the list of candidates fielded last time included a disproportionate number of former exiles. That, too, was inevitable because outsiders had had more opportunities to make a name than those inside Iraq. Now, however, a new generation of politicians, homegrown, younger and closer to the reality on the ground is available, and keen, to play a bigger role.
Third, the system of proportional representation used in the previous elections is no longer suitable.
What Iraq needs is a new system under which voters could have a direct relationship with their representatives. This means a system of single, or multi-member constituencies, so that people know whom they are electing.
In proportional representation, party bosses decide who should stand and who should not. This encourages loyalty to the party, rather than the country. The system, which excludes non-party independents, is even bad for parties because it helps promote “yes-men” rather than those who favour debate and dissent.
Fourth, new elections are needed to cut out some of the deadwood in the political elite.
This elite includes some truly embarrassing figures. There are members of parliament who hardly attended a session, content to pocket the fat salary, get hold of the bulletproof limousine, and secure lucrative posts for nephews and cousins. Some spend more time in London and Paris than Baghdad.
Since Iraq is preparing for municipal elections, it could broaden the exercise by including a general election for a new parliament. The ideal time would be at the end of this year or in the fist week of January while George W Bush is still in office and the US commitment beyond question. Even if John McCain succeeds Bush, the Senate and the Congress are likely to be dominated by Democrats, a party whose engine right now is the anti-war network dedicated to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq.
With a new parliament and government in place in Baghdad, backed by a new and stronger popular mandate, the passionate seekers of defeat in the US would find it harder to impose their weird obsession on the new president in Washington.