Young Professionals Briefing on Iraqi Elections
Iraqi Elections: Is This Democracy?
Scholar, Middle East Institute
Marisa Cochrane Sullivan
Research Director, Institute for the Study of War
Fellow, Institute for the Study of War
Former U.S. Army officer
Jamie M. Fly
Executive Director, Foreign Policy Initiative
On Thursday, March 11, The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) and The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) sponsored a joint event for young professionals in defense and national security policy on the Iraqi parliamentary elections held on March 7th. Regional experts offered their analysis on the electoral process, validity of the pending results, likelihood of peaceful government formation, and the fate of Iraq’s leading political figures.
Following an introduction by FPI Executive Director and discussion moderator Jamie Fly, Charles Dunne opened by outlining the regional importance of Iraq in the Middle East, and the "turning point" that is occurring in Iraqi politics. Dunne argued that while the U.S. has yet to decide what role it will play in the future of Iraqi politics, regional players such as Iran will not be as reticent in the coming months. In a reference to the malleable state of Iraq's post-election political situation, Dunne indicated that Arab states must strike while the iron is hot if they are going to play a positive role in the democracy's future. Lastly, Dunne asserted, in contrast to Iraq's 2005 elections, it appears that citizens in 2010 voted in order to secure basic human needs, instead of for fear of political reprisal. The people of Iraq, Dunne theorized, are no longer living in fear.
Marisa Sullivan followed Mr. Dunne's comments by outlining the electoral process and preliminary outcomes. Sullivan pointed out that, with roughly 62% of the 18 million registered voters having cast a vote in these elections, Iraq's voter participation rate is much higher than that of an established democracy such as the U.S. Additionally, with independent election observers at 41,652 of the 52,000 polling stations, there were few signs of irregularities and increased transparency in these elections. There were, however, periods of violence throughout the election, resulting in 36 killed by day's end. Sullivan argued that, despite the death toll, most of the damage was purely psychological and based on scare tactics to deter voters. Certified official results should not be available for several weeks from election day, having to go through several stages of verification before becoming official.
Lastly, James Danly addressed the hurdles Iraq will face moving forward from the elections. While the constitution stipulates a timeframe for Parliament to elect a speaker after the election, there is no timeframe set for the election of a President, or for the ratification of the Prime Minister's cabinet after it has been named. Additionally, the Independent High Electoral Commission must adjudicate all claims of fraud or irregularities before the votes can be certified as official. Open ended timeframes and lengthy review processes, Danly fears, could result in significant delays of government formation.
Questions on the impacts of elections on the U.S. troop withdrawal, Iranian and Syrian ambitions inside Iraq and long term security implications were also addressed.
Charles Dunne's report for William and Mary College's Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations, "Iraq's National Elections 2010," can be found here.
Marisa Cochrane Sullivan and James Danly's report for the Institute for the Study of War, "Iraq on the Eve of Elections," can be found here.
The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.