Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Where Voting is Prized

Despite violence and shaky rule of law that I hoped a continued American military presence after 2011 would help entrench, Iraqis are out to vote in parliamentary elections.

Reasonably honest voting isn't enough to create a democracy, but it is certainly a requirement. Iraqis are voting:

Unshaken by the latest surge in violence, Iraqis braved the threat of bombs and attacks to vote Wednesday in key elections for a new parliament amid a massive security operation as the country slides deeper into sectarian strife.

Hundreds of thousands of troops and police have fanned out to guard voting centers in what is also the first nationwide balloting since the 2011 American pullout. Polls across the energy-rich nation opened at 7 a.m. local time and will close at 6 p.m. Iraq's 22 million voters are electing a 328-seat parliament.

The only good thing to say about the violence that has risen up in Iraq is that so far, violence isn't accelerating this year:

The U.N. says 8,868 people were killed in 2013, and about 2,000 people were killed in the first three months of this year alone.

I know the phrasing wants to imply a higher rate, but since three months is a quarter of an entire year, that means that the rate of killing (2,000 X 4 = 8,000 per year) is so far lower than last year.

And this casualty rate reflects both al Qaeda's attempt to disrupt these elections and the result of their January offensive that led them to occupy parts of Anbar province:

Anbar province (most of western Iraq) has become a major battle zone as ISIL continues fighting in both Iraq and Syria. Efforts to expand the fighting to other parts of Iraq have failed. Not for want of trying as ISIL has conducted raids as far east as Abu Ghraib, with is 20 kilometers west of Baghdad and the outskirts of Baghdad itself. Efforts to get closer to Baghdad have been foiled by a strong and aggressive army presence around the city. Same situation in neighboring provinces. ... Pro-government tribesmen are losing patience with all this ISIL violence and disruption to life in Anbar and have managed to prevent ISIL from getting more gunmen into the city. A lot of the fighting now revolves around ISIL efforts to break the army cordon around Fallujah and to defend the rural ISIL bases that the army is now targeting for air and ground attacks.

While the Iraqis are taking way longer to defeat the jihadi offensive, at least the long jihadi occupations are reminding Sunni Arabs why they "awakened" in late 2006 and early 2007.

And the violence is reminding Iraqis that they need us to defend the gains of overthowing Saddam and defeating the Baathist, al Qaeda, and Iranian-backed Sadrists (as well as dealing with criminal gangs contributing to the carnage as they took advantage of the violence). Their confidence in coping without us has been recognized as an error:

Iraqi military commanders continue to demand their government do more to obtain help from the Americans. The U.S. has promised more intelligence support, including adding more military intelligence officers to the embassy staff to directly assist their Iraqi counterparts. The U.S. will also expand its Jordan based training program for Iraqi commandos.

The Obama administration was happy to let Iraq take the blame for no agreement rather than work to get to "yes." I don't expect us to send troops to Iraq in the numbers I wanted back in 2011 (25,000), but it would be nice to get to "yes" so that in case we do need to provide more substantive anti-terrorism support, the legal groundwork is in place.

Yet Iraqis vote despite the dangers and continue to defend this gain from the war. And in this country, some claim that the need to present picture ID to vote is a deterrent to voting. Amazing.