The right to pick your chains
On 15th December Iraqis get to choose who will run the country for the next 4 years. If you can seriously believe a democratic election can be held during a situation of open warfare I have a used car I want to sell you.
Given the situation of almost complete lawlessness in Iraq, the only parties that can seriously organise are ones with big militias. All other parties are irrelevant - they cant campaign, keep their posters up or generally stay alive. The result is Iraqis are now presented with 3 different kinds of dictator.
There are the Kurdish dictators - Talabani and Barzani. The latter more a feudal lord than a modern dictator. They have almost complete rule over their respective domains. Rumor has it that they pre-arranged their respective territories and cooked the last election results to reflect that.
There is the American dictator - Iyad Allawi. He has the militia with the biggest guns - the US army. It is telling that when he was chased out of the mosque in Najaf yesterday in a hail of sandals, he had an Apache helicopter follow him to keep him safe. During his rule the defense ministry was robbed of 1 billion dollars, a plane-load (literally) of new Iraqi dinars strangely turned up in Lebanon and god know what other corruption. On the democracy front he is no more than a rebooted Baathist and his first act was reconstituting Saddam's old secret police.
Lastly you have the Shi'a parties of SCIRI and Badr - which I will lump together as they are really two sides of the same coin. These have arguably the largest militia - which is the whole of the Iranian army. Badr, as you will know from reading the Baghdad Burning blog, were based, funded, and directly supported by Iran right up to the end of Saddam's rule. They are well known for torturing Iraqi soldiers captured in Iran/Iraq war and now have the same reputation of torturing Sunnis in Iraq. They are also known for forcing women to cover up completely in public, torching musical instrument shops and lining their ministries with their own cronies. Their current plan is to split the south of Iraq - together with its oil - away from the rest of Iraq and leave the centre of Iraq impoverished and desolate. If the Sunni's don't like it - Badr will call in the Iranians for protection.
Yet none of these dictators have the same security apparatus as Saddam. None can rule alone with only the support of one section of society. Neither side is powerful enough or has the police or intelligence apparatus to infiltrate and defeat the other side. Separation of Iraq is simply a non-starter. Iraq is a large-flat country. One cannot draw a line across the middle and expect Sunni's to stay on their side.
So what you will see, regardless of the election, is a growing conflict between armed sections of the Sunnis, Shi'a and Kurds, drawing in outside countries for support of the respective sides and leaving a bemused Iraqi population in the middle watching on while trying to keep alive. This will continue to grow until these petty dictators have exhausted themselves or the Iraqi people have had enough or the rest of the world gets seriously scared of losing its oil.
The way out of this cycle must be based on a broad secular movement that is at least respectable and not tainted with the current corruption and petty-dictators. The people to form this movement exist and the potential support for such a movement exists. To give a recent example - in 1958, a group of army officers ousted the British-backed monarchy and created a popular constitution which all the current Iraqi parties (even the Kurds) signed up to. At the same time Iraqi people flocked to the Communist party. Not for ideological reasons but because it was the only secular party that promised to unite the country.
By contrast the current constitution does no more than legitimise a land-grab between the Shi'a and Kurds and these parties are creating the grounds for civil war, ethnic purges and a wider international war.
Unfortunately, a broad-based secular movement would not be interested in giving American corporations first refusal on the economic resources of Iraq. But given the alternative, America should seriously consider dropping support for the gang of various sectarian or corrupt parties that it currently surrounds itself with.