As you tour the streets of Baghdad these days, your eyes can hardly avoid the tens of thousands of posters and banners of candidates for the March 7 parliamentary elections. The Iraqi media and Arab satellite TV networks offer heavy coverage of the campaign. More than 6,000 candidates are competing for 323 seats in the next parliament. More than 300 political entities have registered, of which 251 are running as part of a list or coalition.
For most Iraqis, the coming general elections will decide the shape of the next parliament and the identity of the next prime minister. So candidates focus on issues that matter to the majority of Iraqis: basic services, welfare and security. ?
But these elections are also very important to other countries, especially the United States and Iraq s neighbors in the region. Nor is it easy to ignore the bias of both Iraqi and Arab media for or against certain parties, especially the so-called Islamic parties.
Turkey, like the European Union, would like to see progress toward stability and democracy in Iraq, which with its resources, population and geographic position is a key to stability in a region that is a major supplier of oil for Turkey but also a big market for Turkish products. Turkey is not very comfortable with the political gains the Kurds have achieved across its border in northern Iraq. But in view of the Turks limited capacity to influence events there, they have apparently decided to live with this situation rather than attempt to change it. ??
The Iranians, on the other hand, are in a comfortable position concerning these elections. They are friendly with all the major competing players in Iraq and have additional means of influencing the situation.??
The United States appreciates the importance of the Iraqi elections more than others, and for several reasons. Firstly, promoting democracy has always been one of the pillars of American foreign policy (at least theoretically). The Americans have invested hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of their soldiers lives in Iraq, with one of their goals being to make it a democracy. A successful, fair and inclusive election in Iraq is a success for them. ??Secondly, the Americans anticipate that elections that include even senior Baathists (who are banned by Iraqi law from running for political office) will contribute to reducing violence and enhancing stability – crucial factors in the American plan to withdraw all troops by 2011 and redeploy them in Afghanistan. ??Lastly, the outcome of this election is likely to shape the political system in Iraq for many years to come.
Accordingly, this will also shape Iraq s relations with the US. The Americans were very helpful in supporting the Iraqi government s efforts to prepare these elections. Their support-on-request offer is factored into the Iraqi security plan for the elections. Earlier, they played a positive conciliatory role to help Iraqi lawmakers resolve disputes over the elections law. However, their efforts to block or freeze the decision of Iraq s Justice and Accountability Commission to bar Baathists from running in the elections were criticized by many Iraqis as unacceptable interference.
Some politicians have even argued that the American administration is facilitating the partnering of Baathists in the Iraqi government in an effort to strengthen the anti-Iranian line in Iraqi politics.
The position of Arab countries regarding the Iraqi elections is much more complicated. For most, Saddam Hussein s regime was in its day the black sheep of the Arab family. Yet this does not render the recent and current Shia-led governments in Iraq normal white sheep ; rather, they are perceived as aliens . ??
In movies, people usually observe aliens with some concern, often misunderstand their activities or intentions and eventually intervene against or even attack them. This approximates the attitude of Arab countries toward the new regime in Iraq, which has not been accepted into the Arab club for several reasons, including fear of democracy, promotion of minority rights and the influence of Iran-Arab tensions in the region.
After a period of negative monitoring of the course of events in Iraq, many Arab countries have decided to act and intervene in the coming elections. They are financially supporting specific political parties and using influential media machines like the Al-Arabia and Al-Jazeera satellite channels (as well as Iraqi satellite channels that are financed by Arab states, like Al-Sharqia and Al-Baghdadia) to undermine the dominant Islamic Shia parties. ??Bearing in mind the difficulties many Iraqis face in their daily lives, whether concerning security or basic services, the messages delivered by these satellite channels are powerful and can be influential if they succeed in associating these difficulties with the dominant political parties. But considering their frustration with the indifference of the Arab states toward their sufferings – whether under Saddam s regime or bearing the brunt of Al-Qaeda terrorism – will the majority of Iraqis buy this logic
Safa A. Hussein is a former deputy member of the dissolved Iraqi Governing Council. He served as a brigadier general in the Iraqi Air Force. Currently he works in the Iraqi National Security Council. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with bitterlemons-international.org.