Already, one can hardly find the posters, banners and other signs of campaigning that filled the streets prior to the March 7 elections. Yet election news is still making headlines.
The Iraqi elections were viewed as a major achievement for the security forces, who secured the movement of over 18 million Iraqis to more than 8,000 polling stations countrywide. The Iraqi public took pride in participating and challenging the death threats of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Yet the real news is the outcome. The final results will be announced within days. Additional time is required to look into complaints raised by candidates before the final results are approved. Even then the game is not over. Elections are but one round; forming a government is the second and perhaps more important phase. This will be very complicated: there are too many players, and the rules of the game are not well established. While interactions between and within these groups shape the formation of the government, the lack of established traditions of democracy awards the losers in the election an important role in the aftermath.
The key players may be classified into three groups: national (Iraqi political parties), international (mainly foreign governments) and transnational. Al-Qaeda is the main transnational player; its publicly declared objective, which it failed to achieve, was to prevent the elections. On the contrary, the success of the elections weakened al-Qaeda and it will be further weakened by progress in the political process.
Iraq s relations with many neighboring countries in the post-Saddam era have been affected by regional and bilateral issues. Some countries believe that Iraq with its resources and potential, once it reemerges, could affect the region unfavorably from their standpoint. They believe that now is the time to influence developments in Iraq to their benefit. Some regional countries want Iraq, because of its geography, demography and resources to become part of the Iran/Arab and Shia/Sunni conflict. In past years, they tried to exploit sectarian tensions in Iraq toward that end.
But the classic image of Sunni, Shia and Kurd cannot precisely describe the political parties of today. Although sectarianism and ethnicity still play an important role in Iraqi politics, other factors may play a larger role in the realignments that inform the emergence of a new government: the distribution or re-distribution of power between political entities – reflecting their fear of losing power or of the abuse of power by others; the distribution of power and wealth among the central government, the Kurdistan region and the provinces; the disposition of disputed areas with the Kurds; and relations with neighboring countries. All these factors could make it more difficult for regional powers to intervene by means of sectarian polarization.
By the same token, the anticipated nature of the next government will also impact regional relations. Based on a count of about 90 percent of the votes, the major triumphant political blocs are the State of Law chaired by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, closely followed by Iraqia chaired by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Then come the Iraqi National Alliance chaired by Ammar al-Hakim and the Kurdish Alliance that consists mainly of the two major Kurdish parties.
These four blocs will hold more than 90 percent of the 325 seats in the next Iraqi Council of Representatives. To form a government requires the approval of two-thirds of the COR, meaning an alliance of at least three of these blocs. If all four blocs form a government, this could ease tensions between Iraq and Saudi Arabia in view of the friendships that tie some of the members of the Iraqia bloc to the Saudi government. Indeed, Iraqia could play a role in further improving Iraq s relations with many Arab states.
If Iraqia does not participate, then the newly formed government will be essentially a continuation of the outgoing coalition. In this case, current good relations with Turkey and Iran would be further deepened. Relations with many Arab and Gulf states would continue to improve, but those with Saudi Arabia and Syria would need more work.
If the Iraqia bloc, the Kurdish Alliance and the Iraqi National Alliance block the Maliki alliance and form the government themselves, this might not be directly detrimental to relations with regional countries but could harm them indirectly due to domestic problems that might emerge if the leading party is excluded from the government.
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.