Monday, 14 February 2005

A tale of two Shiites

Is my brain malfunctioning or is this New York Times account of the Iraqi election outcome actually less pessimistic than this WaPo account?

Of course, the WaPo account spends most of its first half trying to play up the idea that Iran and Iraq (two countries that had a bloody decade-long war in the not-too-distant past) are about to become buddy-buddy, with a generous assist from Juan “Stopped Clock” Cole, then undercuts it completely with this paragraph:

U.S. and regional analysts agree that Iraq is not likely to become an Iranian surrogate. Iraq’s Arabs and Iran’s Persians have a long and rocky history. During the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq war, Iraq’s Shiite troops did not defect to Iran.

On the other hand, the Times finds not an anti-American front emerging between the “pro-Iranian” Shiites and Kurds, but instead a recipe for weak government:

The razor-thin margin apparently captured by the Shiite alliance here in election results announced Sunday seems almost certain to enshrine a weak government that will be unable to push through sweeping changes, like granting Islam a central role in the new Iraqi state. ...

The vote tally, which appeared to leave the Shiite alliance with about 140 of the national assembly’s 275 seats, fell short of what Shiite leaders had been expecting, and seemed to blunt some of the triumphant talk that could already be heard in some corners. The final results seemed to ease fears among Iraq’s Sunni, Kurd and Christian minorities that the leadership of the Shiite majority might feel free to ignore minority concerns, and possibly fall under the sway of powerful clerics, some of whom advocate the establishment of a strict Islamic state.

As a result, some Iraqi leaders predicted Sunday that the Shiite alliance would try to form a “national unity government,” containing Kurdish and Sunni leaders, as well as secular Shiites, possibly including the current prime minister, Ayad Allawi. Such a leadership would all but ensure that no decisions would be taken without a broad national consensus.

I tend to think that the Times is more accurate here, but only time will tell.

Update: On the other hand, Steven Taylor thinks the Times is making too much of “problems” that are really Comparative Politics 101, while Dan Drezner tries to wrap his head around the WaPo piece as well.

1 comment:

Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

I think it’s a good thing that the Shiites didn’t get a majority. It means that no one faction can just ram through their own agenda. Instead there will have to be negotiations, compromise, and an acceptance of varying interests among the many groups that make up Iraqi society: and that is what democracy is all about.

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