Saturday, January 31, 2009

Voting for a Better Future

Iraq has successfully concluded voting for provincial elections:

Iraq's provincial elections have wrapped up without any reports of serious violence.

Polls closed at 6 p.m. local time (10 a.m. EST) on Saturday — an hour later than planned. Millions of voters cast ballots for influential regional councils around most of Iraq.

Iraqi authorities imposed a huge security operation around the country that included traffic bans in major cities and extensive checkpoints and surveillance posts. The U.S. military also was out in force but did not take a direct role in the election security.

Amusingly enough, 9 minutes after it was published online the headline reads "Iraq wraps up election with major violence". Ah, hope springs eternal at the Associated Press. We'll see how long it takes to amend "with" to "without". [Note: Right before posting this, I refreshed the article and at 23 minutes after publication, the title reads "Iraq wraps up election with no major violence". Oopsy corrected.]

We can't expect overnight miracles in Iraq, but this truly is both hope and change for a better future.

There are still problems, as the article notes. The status of Kirkuk (Will it be part of Arab regions or part of the Kurdish region?) still needs to be settled peacefully. And it is not yet clear that either side is prepared to lose a peaceful debate without resorting to arms. Nor is it clear that there is a basis for compromise.

But while I think it is clear to all at this point that the former proposal to divide Iraq into three countries was a stupid idea, this does not mean that our goal must be a unitary Iraqi state for all time. If the Iraqi Arabs and Kurds themselves decide to peacefully part ways--as the Czechs and Slovaks did (there is no more Czechoslovakia, of course), who are we to object?

Or maybe the Kurdish regions will become a sort of Quebec in the mountains, insisting on their distinct status.

Or perhaps the situation will collapse into something more like Lebanon or there will be a war in which Iraq asserts its direct authority over the Kurds. These would be bad outcomes, of course.

The key is supporting a peaceful resolution that the Iraqis themselves are willing to go along with and then move on, looking to the future rather than dwelling on the past on focusing all their efforts to return to that past.

Personally, I think that the Kurds would be wise to remain within a single Iraq while retaining significant local autonomy. And something needs to be done about Kirkuk, the Danzig of Iraq, that rejects the ethnic cleansing that Saddam carried out against the Kurds without simply putting the Arabs into the loser column. I have no idea what that compromise might look like.

But as long as decisions are made under the rule of law, Iraqis can have a bright future no matter how the borders are drawn. Today's vote was a crucial step to this future.

Congratulations Iraq. So far, so good.