The other major communities in Iraq are both ethnically Arab -- though from different areas -- or sects -- of Islam: the Sunni and the Shi'a (Munson 2009). The Shi'a in Iraq make up about 20% of the current  population while the Sunni make up about 20% of Iraq's  population (2009).
The Shi'a, Sunni and Kurds are important to the overall picture of democracy in Iraq since primary identity has always been an important factor in Iraqi politics and across the broader Middle East. "Although primary identity changes over time, even within the span of a single lifetime, it is the most basic level of group identity and can engender strong feelings" (Munson 2009). These feelings can also be overwhelmingly powerful when "primary identity is politicized and used to draw seemingly ancient distinctions between peoples, even though the distinctions may be imagined or recently concocted" (2009).
Munson (2009) notes that in the long-term Iraq may have the ability to build trust, reconciliation and the legal institutions needed to support democracy, however there are many spots in which the whole process of transition could go awry.
While transition to democracy requires years of accumulated progress, only one short series of events could send Iraq down the path of illiberal majoritarian rule, dictatorship, civil war, or state collapse. Each of these outcomes has regional implications that must be considered before action is taken. Partition of the country, a move opposed by most Iraqis, leaves Sunnis with barren desert devoid of resources. Turkish officials, fearful than an independent Iraqi Kurdistan could encourage violent separatism in Turkey's Kurdish southwest, have strongly warned Iraqi Kurds against secession from Iraq/. Shi'a majoritarian dominance has been decried by other Sunni governments who may provide material aid to Sunni insurgents should the United States pull out (Munson 2009).
Two-thousand and nine and 2010 saw far less violence on the streets of Iraq than earlier years; in fact, the levels are at their lowest since the invasion (Munson 2009). Parliament appears to be coming together on certain issues and there has been some important legislation passed, opening the door for elections. While everything may appear to be going back to "normal" in Iraq, there are many issues looming in the air. Even though there has been an improvement in violence, they levels are still incredibly high by any American's standards and violence claims "nearly five hundred civilian Iraqi lives a month in addition to a monthly toll of nearly one hundred Iraqi police and soldiers. Enemy-initiated attacks still approach two hundred per week" (2009).
While noting all the roadblocks and looking at the historical legacy of Iraq, it is also important to ask the question: Is democracy a desirable political ideal for Iraq? Keane (Paya & Esposito 2010) asks:
Might it be a universal norm, as relevant and applicable to the vineyard people of Kandahar as it is to bankers in Frankfurt and London and cell-phoning businessmen in Mumai and Delhi, as well as to dalit women in that country who battle for panchayat representation, or to the factory workers and peasants of China, the Kurds of Turkey, or even to powerful bodies that operate across borders, like the WTO and the World Bank? Or might it be that democracy is a fake universal norm, just one of those pompous Western values that jostles for our attention, dazzles us with its promises and -- for a time -- tricks us into believing that it is not a mask for power, a tool useful in the struggle by some for mastery over others? (Keane; Paya & Esposito 2010).
Why should we in the West believe that Iraq needs to have a democratic system? Especially if the roadblocks it will face along the way will cost millions of dollars and require military presence? There is evidence to suggest, especially when the talk of ethical superiority is backed up by military force, that the results are probably going to give democracy a bad name....
Democracy is viewed in the West as being "morally superior" because it is a part of a "culture of hope" (Kean; Paya & Esposito 2010) -- hope that the world can be made a better place by social and political effort combined -- as opposed to characteristics of the East apparently (2010). What is basically being said is though democracy is one norm among others, it is self-evidently superior in practice (2010). If it doesn't feel right for the people living in it or transitioning to it, why do we have to force it on a people? Munson (2009) notes that Iraqis have a difficult time coming to terms with the new order. In the words of one Iraqi:
…people aren't ready to jump to democracy. Over the last thirty-five years, all sorts of authoritarian ideas were imposed on us. They established dictatorship even in the primary schools, where one child would be singled out as the leader of the class. So we feel the superiority of our leaders (Munson 2009).
Another Iraqi returned from exile said very concisely:
When you tell them [the Iraqi people] they have such a great opportunity to express their opinion, they don't give a damn. It means nothing to them, they don't have anything to express, they have no opinion (Munson 2009).
The biggest challenge that Iraq may face -- as a roadblock -- in relation to democracy is simply that Iraq is not ready to become a democracy. It is true that U.S. citizens, for the most part, believe that democracy for Iraqis is good, but when democracy is the norm, then there really is no other side to consider. Many Americans believe that democracy in Iraq would inspire democracy in other places in the Middle East. Yet, one of the biggest challenges to democracy could perhaps be that people -- especially people in other Arab countries -- will see the United States' intrusion in Iraq as a major offense and thus further anti-Americanism in the process. Building democracy in Iraq would require a very long-term commitment on the part of the United States (as well as other countries) and it would not be certain to work. The major challenge when considering this long-term commitment comes down to, does the United States want to invest the time, the money, and the resources into something that might not work. How important is it to us in the scheme of everything? How important is it to the world? How well do we, Americans, think we can understand foreign governments?
To go into a country, destroy its civil structure -- police, government, schools -- and make an unworkable government, then think that it can be repaired to function again in an expedient manner is ridiculous. While there isn't much doubt that Iraq could be a well-functioning democracy at some point in the future, so much time and resources will need to be put toward the mission when it's not even clear if democracy is the right system for them anyway.
America has the tendency to think that whatever way it functions is the correct way. There are other traditions in government and while authoritarian or tyrannical governments are certainly not the way to function, it is difficult to say that democracy is right for every country. The biggest challenges that Iraq will face on its way to democracy is coming to terms with the different ethnicities, religions, languages and cultures that are a permanent part of the country's heritage.
Chandrasekaran, R. (2010). Green zone (Imperial life/emerald city movie tie-in edition). New York: Vintage; Mti Spl edition.
Dawish, Adeed. (2005). The prospects for democracy in Iraq: Challenges and opportunities. Third World Quarterly,26(4-5), 723-737.
Janda, K., Berry, J.M., Goldman, J. (2009).…
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