Hopeful plans of free, democratic elections in 2005 accompanied the handover of sovereignty from the U.S. to the Iraqi interim government Monday. But a democratic Iraq is still very far away, according to Peter Philipp.
Iraq's road to democracy could yet be long
Former Israeli ambassador Avi Primor, normally exceedingly popular in Germany, elicited uncomfortable silence during a panel discussion recently when he said that you won't soon see real democracy in Iraq and that the country might be better off with a new "strong man."
The German audience was taken down a peg in its political correctness and political wishful thinking. Though many people didn't accept George W. Bush's democratic domino theory for the Middle East, since the "official" end of hostilities 14 months ago, they have became increasingly more impatient and called for a rapid democratization of Iraq.
Such demands or even just expectations weren't exactly underpinned by experience. The view was -- and is -- obscured by the unspeakable torture affair and the continual picking to pieces of even the last official reason for going to war: There were neither weapons of mass destruction nor was there an alliance between Saddam Hussein and international terrorists.
War continues to rage
On the other hand, a war is raging in Iraq against the occupiers, against members of the interim government, against foreigners, against everyone who is at all involved in building a new, better Iraq. That even the United States speaks of "insurgents" bolsters the feeling that this is a war against foreign occupation which, according to international law -- and emotionally more than ever -- is sanctioned.
It's hardly a good starting point for a transferal of power. Even if the responsibility is officially put in the interim government's hands, it will have an extremely difficult status. Its members will continue to be endangered. There's no reason to assume that the attacks will stop, attacks that only have one aim: to create terror and prevent normalization. The suicide bombers and kidnappers aren't acting in the interests of the Iraqi people, which have long been concentrated on only one issue: security.
In any case, it was an exaggeration to expect the country to be democratized in a matter of a few months. After World War II, Germany needed four years until the first free elections and ten years until sovereignty. Why should the process go faster in Iraq, a country which doesn't even have a history of democracy but really only of totalitarian rule?
Security has priority
Fourteen months after the official end of hostilities, the Iraqi citizen's dream of freedom and democracy has also faded and lost ground to the simple desire for safety and survival. The interim government will -- and wants to -- address those concerns: The security forces should be strengthened, old officers should be rehired, and emergency ordinances should give the government a free hand to pursue terrorists and violent criminals.
Such a crackdown on the violent criminals is hardly a guarantee that the security situation will improve. If it doesn't, the government's success is put into question. How can voters and candidates be motivated if they automatically become the targets of extremists?
Elections are supposed to take place in early 2005, but, like in Afghanistan, such plans can quickly fall victim to local developments. Ultimately, there is the "classic" risk: The government must take tough action against violent criminals, but in doing so it risks deepening the abyss and suspending those freedoms that democracy is supposed to bring. Thus, June 28 is surely an important date but hardly more than the prelude to a more than problematic new period in the unfortunate history of Iraq.