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Iraq: an occupation in crisis

This article is over 15 years, 11 months old
The US is still caught between a rock and a hard place in Iraq, writes Saad N Jawad, and recent elections have only made matters worse
Issue 1986
illustration by Tim Sanders
illustration by Tim Sanders

The US can draw little comfort from the recent elections in Iraq. The poll itself is mired in controversy, with both the winners and losers accusing each other of ballot rigging and political manipulation.

Even the winning list, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), is unhappy about the results. It is the biggest party in the new parliament, but has fallen short of an overall majority.

The UIA is an alliance of Shia parties. Moqtada al-Sadr’s group is the largest among them – and they are fierce opponents of the occupation. The other groups in the alliance, such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, are influenced by Iran.

The politicians championed by the US have been the biggest losers in the elections. The US has made many serious mistakes in Iraq, but one of their biggest was to assume that the people living in Iraq were too incompetent to perform their national duty, while all the exiles were competent.

The experience of the last few years has shown that these exile politicians are incapable of doing anything beyond helping themselves. The economy is deteriorating, politics is deteriorating, social life is deteriorating and security is non-existent.

So the US has been forced to look for new allies among the parties that have popular support. But this is now backfiring.

The UIA claims that the US has deliberately blocked its majority in order to force it to include pro?US politicians in government – even though these politicians were rejected at the polls.

The deep suspicion of the US has led the Shia list to turn to Iran for support. During the elections the US military said it had intercepted two trucks with ballot papers trying to cross into the country from Iran.

No evidence was produced for this claim, but it seems to confirm the Shia allegations that the US was determined to block the UIA.

So the US is in a dilemma.The occupation has failed and everyone in the region considers the US to be vulnerable. Anti-US voices in the Iranian government have grown louder. Everyone in Iraq accepts that the US is in an impossible situation and, even though it still controls much of Iraqi politics, all the parties are working on the assumption that the US is losing influence.


Now we have the strange spectacle of the US trying to win favour with the Sunni Muslims in order to counterbalance the growth of Shia parties. There are even rumours that the US has been trying to approach sections of the resistance—but the resistance is in no mood to negotiate.

The political process championed by the US has not delivered, and meanwhile opposition to the occupation continues to grow. The resistance is still strong and getting stronger—the number of military operations against the US has increased and the numbers joining the resistance has grown.

The resistance has also developed and acquired new weapons. But resistance is still not unified, and differences over ideology and strategy means it cannot, as yet, drive out the US occupation.

Despite the fact that the majority of Iraqis voted on sectarian or narrow national lines, the last elections witnessed a slight shift away from sectarianism.

In the January 2005 elections the sectarian parties were the big winners, but now that is not the case. There is a slow but gradual move towards a national movement.

The dangers and consequences of sectarian politics – the massacres, kidnappings and so on – have alerted ordinary Iraqis to the fact that this road will lead to the disintegration of our country.

So even inside the UIA there are those who are opposed to the break up of Iraq and who want to make common cause with the Sunni parties.

There are several possible outcomes of these elections. The first is that all the parties will have to negotiate to form a government of national unity. But this will be very difficult to achieve.

The other possibility is the creation of an emergency cabinet made up of technocrats, with the parliament reduced to a monitoring role.

Finally there is the prospect of a coalition government between the Shia list and some Sunni or Kurdish parties. The US would like a coalition that would give their candidates some control, but these politicians are tarnished by failure.

On every front the US occupation is in trouble, and far from relieving their problems, the elections have only deepened them.

Saad N Jawad is professor of political science at the University of Baghdad. He is a member of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress

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