Monday, May 23, 2005

The Impact of Iraqi Pluralism

The formation of Iraq's current, democratically elected, government was anything but smooth. Ethnic and sectarian squabbling, ideological and policy differences, and plain old political ambition meant that it took three months after the historic January 30th elections for a new administration to take power. In the meantime, ordinary Iraqis became frustrated while the terrorists sought to exploit the atmosphere of uncertainty and stop additional progress by launching an onslaught of suicide car bombings.

Yet despite all the tragedies and frustrations, the new government now exists. It is led by a Shia prime minister and a Kurdish president, both firsts for an Arab country. When one gets caught up in the media's daily "police blotter" coverage of Iraq, it is easy to lose sight of just how far-reaching and historic a development this is. Credit Jim Hoagland for reminding us in Sunday's Washington Post:

After a stumbling start the government -- headed by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Jafari, a Shiite -- seems to be making headway in getting organized and gaining external acceptance.

Jordan's King Abdullah has ceased issuing blood-curdling warnings to his Sunni co-religionists about the dangers that a Shiite takeover in Iraq would pose. He welcomed Talabani in Amman recently. And two Arab leaders visiting Washington last week dropped hints that pluralism is gaining acceptance, however grudging, in some key Arab nations in the wake of regime change in Iraq.

"There is a realization that Arab nationalism should be redefined," Kuwait's foreign minister, Mohammed Sabah, told me. He pointed out that Iraq has Kurds as its president, deputy prime minister and foreign minister; Sudan is shortly to name a non-Arab vice president, and minority groups advance toward greater influence in other Arab countries.

"We should look again at the concept of the Arab League, to get away from any racist interpretation that Arab nationalism emphasized in the past," said the forward-thinking Sabah, whose country was invaded by Iraq in 1990. "The Iraqis are showing that a more multicultural approach does not divorce the country from the Arab world."

Ahmed Nazif, Egypt's coolly competent prime minister, addressed the same signs of change with characteristic pith: "The Arab League is melting at the edges. It is a time of change, in many dimensions."

The Middle East's Growing Pluralism

The political process going forward in Iraq will not be pretty. There will be much hard bargaining, and points where one or more of the parties threaten to take their ball and go home. Expect to see at least one article in the Post or New York Times declaring the process of writing Iraq's new constitution to be virtually dead. The terrorists will continue their barbarous campaign. Despite all the obstacles, however, the creation of a permanent democratic Iraqi government will occur.

However flawed they may be, and whatever mistakes they will undoubtedly make in office, don't be surprised if Ibrahim Jafari and Jalal Talabani are remembered long after the name Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is forgotten.


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