A wall falls in Baghdad
Several of my colleagues have weighed in today on the fall of the Berlin wall 20 years ago. I covered that event for The Post, and I have a graffiti-stained chunk of the wall to prove it. But to me the most interesting news today is not the anniversary gala in Berlin, but a smaller, more complicated yet still thrilling breakthrough in Baghdad: the passage by the Iraqi parliament of a law allowing national elections to go forward in January.
Sure, Iraq has had democratic elections before -- three of them since 2005. But the deal setting up this one, arrived at after months of haggling and several blown deadlines, broke some new ground. It mandates that the voting for the national parliament be done, as in this year’s local elections, according to an “open list.” That means voters will get to choose among individual candidates rather than selecting one party. The result should be less influence for sectarian coalitions that appeal to Iraqis to vote Shiite or Sunni or Kurd. An all-Shiite coalition took advantage of a “closed list” system in 2006 to gain a majority in parliament. Repeating that outcome has been a focus of Iranian diplomacy in Iraq this year.
Instead, Iraqi leaders already have been racing to construct “national” coalitions that span the sectarian divide. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who refused to join an all-Shiite ticket, has one, and there are two other important ones, headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi and the current interior minister, Jawad Bolani. Both are secular Shiites who have allied themselves with leading Sunni politicians. Four years ago Iraqi Sunnis mostly boycotted the parliamentary elections; three years ago Sunni and Shiite were slaughtering each other in a virtual civil war. Now Iraq stands a good chance of forming a democratically elected government that will span sectarian divisions. Not just the Iranians but those who favored splitting Iraq into three parts, such as Vice President Joe Biden, will have been thwarted.
Getting to this result required postponing -- again -- one of the country’s most divisive issues: the status of the city of Kirkuk, which is the focus of power struggle among Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans. But Iraqi politicians managed to concoct the necessary compromise mostly on their own -- U.S. and U.N. diplomats were much in evidence at the parliament building over the weekend, but they were sometimes locked out of the smoke-filled rooms.
President Obama’s statement Sunday lauding the deal focused on the fact that it would “allow for the orderly and responsible transition of American combat troops out of Iraq by next September.” That’s true -- but the significance of the law is greater than that. Painfully, haltingly but steadily, Iraq’s political leaders are building the Middle East’s first genuine Arab democracy. It’s not finished yet, and, yes, it could still fall apart. But the election law puts another big stone in place. If the vote and formation of the government go forward next year without the fraud or chaos we’ve seen in Iran and Afghanistan, Iraq will have, in its own way, breached a political wall -- and, just maybe, opened the way to a new era.
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