February 3, 2009
Number 02/09 #01
As readers will be aware, Iraq held orderly and pretty peaceful regional and local elections on Saturday (For a good report on the polling see here, some general background is here, reports and photos from soldiers stationed in Iraq are here.) While the results are not yet known with any certainty, this Update features analysis of the overall implications of the apparently successful exercise of democracy in Iraq.
First up is American academic J. Scott Carpenter’s checklist of things to watch for over coming weeks in judging the effects of this poll. Important indicators he mentions include turnout, the role of religious parties, especially those associated with radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Iran, the strength of local coalitions and governments, as well as the performance of female candidates. While his list consists of questions based on detailed knowledge of the Iraqi situation, it seems fair to say that early indicators and most pundits point to positive answers to many of them. For this handy guide to the key issues as the results start to emerge in coming days, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, warning that we cannot know the success of the election until not only are the results in, but we also know how the losers react to those results, is Washington Institute for Near East Policy scholar Michael Knights. Some additional questions relevant to Iraq’s general security progress in the months ahead are here.
Next up, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal assesses Iraqi democratic success within the context of all the Middle East challenges for the new US Obama Administration. He points out not only the very low level of violence which accompanied the Iraqi election, but also the decreasing attraction of religious and sectarian parties, and the willingness of Iraqi Sunnis to join the democratic process in much greater numbers. He argues, given the comparison to other areas, and Iraq’s democratic success as exhibited by the current elections, that Iraq is the obvious place for Obama to look for a US legacy and ally in the Middle East. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE. Additional opinion on the Iraqi election comes from former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who argues Iran is the big loser in Iraqi democracy, and Peter Hegseth who discusses the importance of Sunni participation in the vote. Also, good editorials on Iraq come from the Washington Post and National Review.
Finally, on a separate topic, distinguished Middle East expert Professor Martin Kramer takes on an oft-repeated myth about the lead-up to the Gaza conflict – namely that Israel violated the ceasefire by failing to lift completely its blockade of many goods coming into and out of Gaza. As Kramer demonstrates, Israel never promised to do this, but, as he shows with hard, detailed figures, it did fulfil a promise to somewhat ease the blockade. Not only was humanitarian aid – such as food and medicine – allowed entry in considerably larger amounts than before the ceasefire, but some materials which had previously been completely embargoed – such as concrete and raw metals – were allowed to be imported in limited amounts. For this important correction to an all too common incorrect claim, CLICK HERE. More on how Israel makes decisions about allowing supplies into Gaza is here, while Washington Institute expert Matt Levitt discusses why the aid system for Palestinians is broken.
Readers may also be interested in:
- An attempt to apply some lessons from Iraq to Afghanistan.
- There has been much comment on an angry clash at the Davos confernece last week between Israeli President Peres and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, and what it says about Turkey and Turkish-Israel relations. Good examples are here, here, here, and here.
- Fatah lists 181 Palestinians allegedly shot or maimed by Hamas recently in Gaza. Hamas is also accused of torturing to death a critic and executing a human rights field worker.
- Witnesses describing Hamas abuse of civilians and civilian buildings here,and here. An Israeli government summary of these and other examples is here.
- An excellent detailed analysis raising questions about the claimed casualty figures from Gaza released by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights comes from CAMERA.
- There has been considerable rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, followed by Israeli responses over recent days, despite the supposed ceasefire – see here, and here. Meanwhile, a large-scale Hezbollah attack on an Israeli target in Europe has reportedly been thwarted.
J. Scott Carpenter
Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH)
Feb 1st, 2009
Iraq’s provincial elections took place yesterday without much fanfare and, thankfully, not much violence either. According to news reports, the complexity of the system, the size of the ballot and voter apathy drove voter turnout down. Still, these historic elections, in which 7.5 million Iraqis participated, will set the tone for Iraq’s democratic development and prepare the way for parliamentary elections later in the year. As news and results trickle out of Iraq ’s Independent High Election Commission (IHEC) over the coming days and weeks ahead, here are ten quick things to watch for:
- Did Sistani’s injunction that everyone should vote go unheeded? If it is turns out to be true that turnout nationally was only 50 percent then the Ayatollah’s influence over electoral politics may be on the wane.
- Did the big, established parties benefit at the expense of new lists? High turnout tends to benefit large, well organized political parties. That it seems to have been fairly low should bode well for lists like Prime Minister Maliki’s which was going head to head with al-Hakim’s ISCI.
- Did religious parties lose out? What about the Sadrists? No party in the elections ran with the slogan “Islam is the Solution” since voters were much more interested in who could actually provide services at the local level. As the Hamas experience indicates, however, election rhetoric and policy actions are different things. The Sadrists ran as independents on two separate lists. Under this electoral system, this should kill them.
- Will there be outright majorities elected to the provincial councils? The provincial councils vary in size based on population from 25 to 57. The electoral system should not produce many clear winners meaning even after the results are tabulated coalitions at the local level will have to form and will likely take time doing it.
- What will the elections means to the idea of a new regional government in the south? If Hakim’s ISCI does poorly, its goal of establishing a regional government in the south analogous to the Kurdish Regional Government in the north will be seriously in question.
- What will the results mean for the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)? The results of these elections will give a strong indication of whether the SOFA negotiated with the United States will pass in this summer’s national referendum. If the governmental parties do well, the referendum should be expected to pass easily.
- What will be the impact of election on the level of violence in Iraq? Elections don’t always contribute to stability. Expect a large number of disputes to be lodged with the IHEC. It is unlikely but not impossible that disputes will descend into violence. Once elected, however, members of the councils will provide targets for would-be insurgents.
- Will the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) lose out to the Son of Iraq? Turnout in the whole of Iraq is reportedly low but in the Western provinces turnout is reportedly high. Because the Sons of Iraq ran a fragmented campaign and too many candidates, the IIP could end up doing quite well.
- How strong are governors likely to be? Governors are not elected directly in post-Saddam’s Iraq. The Provincial Council elects him (or her). They need not elect someone from within their number. Who the governor will be will likely be the first decision taken by most councils. This, combined with coalition government, will make for inefficient governance.
- How will women do in these elections? The low turnout coupled with the complexity of the electoral system will likely mean women will do very poorly.
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As an Arab democracy, it’s a model for what we would like the rest of the Arab world to become
Wall Street Journal, FEBRUARY 3, 2009
Imagine yourself as Barack Obama, gazing at a map of the greater Middle East and wondering how, and where, the United States can best make a fresh start in the region.
Your gaze wanders rightward to Pakistan, where preventing war with India, economic collapse or the Talibanization of half the country would be achievement enough. Next door is Afghanistan, where you are committing more troops, all so you can prop up a government that is by turns hapless and corrupt.
Next there is Iran, drawing ever closer to its bomb. You’re mulling the shape of a grand bargain, but Israel is talking pre-emption. Speaking of Israel, you’re girding for a contentious relationship with the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, the all-but certain next prime minister.
What about Israel’s neighbors? Palestine is riven between feckless moderates and pitiless fanatics. Lebanon and Hezbollah are nearly synonyms. You’d love to nudge Syria out of Iran’s orbit, but Bashar Assad isn’t inclined. In Egypt, a succession crisis looms the moment its octogenarian president retires to his grave.
And then there is Iraq, the country in the middle that you would have just as soon banished from sight. How’s it doing? Perplexingly well.
The final tallies for Saturday’s provincial elections aren’t in yet. But a few conclusions are warranted. This time, the election seems to have been mostly free of fraud; four years ago, it was beset by fraud. This time, there was almost no violence; four years ago, there were 299 terrorist attacks. This time, 40% of voters in the overwhelmingly Sunni province of Anbar went to the polls; four years ago, turnout was 2%.
In 2005, Iraqis voted their sectarian preferences. Now sectarian parties are out of fashion. “Those candidates who campaigned under the banner of religion should be rejected,” Abdul Kareem told Al Jazeera. “They corrupted the name of religion because they are notorious for being thieves. Religion is not politics.” Mr. Kareem is a Shiite cleric.
Also out of fashion: Iran, previously thought to be the jolly inheritor of our Iraq misadventure. In 2005, Tehran’s political minions in the Iranian-funded Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq — itself the funder of the dreaded Badr brigade — swept the field. Candidates loyal to anti-American fire-breather Moqtada al-Sadr also did well. This time, Sadr didn’t even dare to field his own slate, and early reports are that the Supreme Council was trounced.
What’s in fashion, electorally speaking, are secular parties, as well as the moderately religious Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Palestinian parliamentary election of 2006 that put Hamas in power was taken in the West as proof that Arab democracy was destined to yield illiberal results. Saturday’s election suggests otherwise, assuming there is a structure that guarantees that Islamists must stand for election more than once.
What about security? A month ago, Gen. Ray Odierno predicted that “al Qaeda will try to exploit the elections because they don’t want them to happen. So I think they will attempt to create some violence and uncertainty in the population.” But al Qaeda was a no-show on Saturday. Meanwhile, more U.S. soldiers died in accidents (12) than in combat (4) for the month of January. The war is over.
So what are you going to do about the one bright spot on your map — an Arab country that is genuinely democratic, increasingly secular and secure, anti-Iranian and, all-in-all, on your side? So far, your only idea seems to bid to it good luck and bring most of the troops home in time for Super Bowl Sunday, 2010.
That’s a campaign promise, but it isn’t a foreign policy. Foreign policy begins with the recognition that Iraq has now moved from the liability side of the U.S. ledger to the asset side. As an Arab democracy, it is a model for what we would like the rest of the Arab world to become. As a Shiite democracy, it is a reproach to Iranian theocracy. As the country at the heart of the Middle East, it is ideally located to be a bulwark against Tehran’s encroachments.
There was a time when American strategists understood the role countries could play as “pillars” of a regional strategy. Israel has been a pillar since at least 1967; Iran was one until 1979. Turkey, too, is a pillar, but it is fast slipping away, as is Egypt.
Within the Arab world, Iraq is the only country that can now fulfil that role. For that it will need military and economic aid, and lots of it. Better it than futile causes like Palestine, or missions impossible like winning over the mullahs. With Saturday’s poll, Iraq has earned a powerful claim to our friendship.
Yes, you’d rather look elsewhere on the map for a Mideast legacy. But Iraq is where you’ll find it. Don’t miss your chance.
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posted Thursday, 29 January 2009
Henry Siegman, who must spend every waking hour hating Israel, has a piece in the London Review of Books, which is never complete without an Israel-bashing tirade. This one is called simply “Israel’s Lies.” Siegman spends a lot of time faulting Israel for the breakdown of the previous six-month cease-fire with Hamas, reached through Egyptian mediation in June 2008. In one passage, he accurately reports the quid pro quo of the cease-fire:
[The cease-fire] required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad… and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions.
Correct. But only a couple of paragraphs earlier, he set up the cease-fire as an entirely differently deal—and accused Israel of violating it:
Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further.
Therefore according to Siegman, Israel violated the cease-fire before Hamas fired a single rocket, by reneging on its supposed commitment to ease sanctions. Rashid Khalidi, writing in the New York Times, went even further: “Lifting the blockade,” he wrote, “along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.” (My emphasis.)
None of this is true.
First of all, contra Khalidi, Israel did not agree to “lifting” of the “blockade,” only to easing it. At the time, the Economist reported the cease-fire thus (my emphasis):
The two sides agreed to start with three days of calm. If that holds, Israel will allow some construction materials and merchandise into Gaza, slightly easing an economic blockade that it has imposed since Hamas wrested control of the strip.
And Israel did just that: it slightly eased the sanctions on some construction materials and merchandise. Siegman falsely claims that Israel “tightened” its “throttlehold” on Gaza after the cease-fire, and that this is confirmed by “every neutral international observer and NGO.” Untrue. The numbers refuting him appear in the last PalTrade (Palestine Trade Center) report on the Gaza terminals, published on November 19, as part of its “Cargo Movement and Access Monitoring and Reporting Project.” The report says the following (my emphasis):
Following the announcement of the truce ‘hudna’ on June 19, 2008 and took effect on June 22, a slight improvement occurred in terms of terminals operation times, types of goods, and truckloads volume that [Israel] allowed to enter Gaza Strip.
This is exactly what Israel had agreed to permit. Here is the table from the PalTrade report, comparing average monthly imports before the Hamas coup (June 12, 2007), between the coup and the “truce,” and then after (i.e., during) the “truce” (through October 31). (If you can’t see the table below, click here).
As is obvious from this table, Israel did ease sanctions during the cease-fire. The average number of truckloads per month entering Gaza during the cease-fire rose by 50 percent over the period before the cease-fire, and Israel also allowed the import of some aggregates and cement, formerly prohibited. (No metal allowed, of course—it’s used to make rockets.) Israel did not allow more fuel, but the PalTrade report notes that fuel brought from Egypt through the tunnels “somewhat made up the deficit of fuel that entered through Nahal Oz entry point.” (For Israel’s own day-by-day, crossing-by-crossing account of what went into Gaza during the cease-fire, go here. This account also puts the increase of merchandise entering Gaza at 50 percent.)
Why do the Khalidi and Siegman errors (or lies, if made knowingly) matter now? If you believe Khalidi’s claim that the last cease-fire included “lifting the blockade,” you might say: why shouldn’t Israel agree to lift it in this one? Or if you believe Siegman’s claim that Israel tightened the sanctions at the crossings during the cease-fire, you might say: Israel shortchanged the Palestinians once, so the next deal on the crossings has to have international guarantees. But in both cases, you’d be relying on entirely bogus claims.
Israel has a compelling strategic reason to keep the sanctions in place. (I say sanctions and not blockade, because Israel doesn’t control the Egyptian-Gazan border, and so cannot impose a true blockade.) Israel’s sanctions are meant to squeeze the “resistance” out of the Hamas regime—and, if possible, to break its monopoly on power in Gaza. Unless these goals are met, at least in part, it’s lights-out for any peace process. And as long as sanctions don’t create extreme humanitarian crises—as opposed to hardships—they’re a perfectly legitimate tool. It was sanctions that ended apartheid in South Africa, kept Saddam from reconsituting his WMD programs, got Qadhafi to give up his WMD, and might (hope against hope) stop Iran’s nuclear program.
Hamas owes everything not to its feeble “resistance,” but to the tendency of the weak of will or mind to throw it lifelines. It’s now demanding that the sanctions be lifted, and the usual chorus is echoing the cynical claims of a tyrannical and terrorist regime that shows no mercy toward its opponents, Israeli or Palestinian. Supporters of peace shouldn’t acquiesce in another bailout of its worst enemy. It’s time to break the cycle, and make it clear beyond doubt that the Hamas bubble has burst. The way to do that is to keep the sanctions in place.