Austin Bay

What kind of coalition government will emerge from Iraq's March 7 national elections? Initial reports indicate Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki's supporters won a plurality of the vote (perhaps a third), with former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's "secular list" in second place. An Iraqi political analyst I spoke with said post-election political negotiations are underway, and the new coalition arrangements will clarify by early to mid-April.

Whether dubbed horse-trading or camel-haggling, the post-election process of parliamentary coalition building is another signal that open, democratic politics -- with its frustrating uncertainties, compromise and concessions -- are emerging in Iraq. The violent whim of the dictator no longer rules.

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"Emerging" is the operative word. Iraq's institutions remain fragile. Corrupt business practices and bribery threaten public trust in the nascent government. While the Iraqi Army has demonstrated increasing self-sufficiency in conducting internal security operations (beginning with Operation Charge of the Knights in March 2008), police forces (especially local departments) are at best iffy organizations. Though Iraqi Kurdish leaders express strong support for the Baghdad government, complex and potentially violent administrative problems (the city of Kirkuk, for example) are unresolved.

External enemies threaten Iraq. The Khomeinist thugocracy controlling Iran fears Iraq's democracy, for it gives Iranian opposition Green Movement activists a Middle Eastern model of palpable democratic political change. So the mullahs meddle, with guns and money. Iranian intelligence agents definitely support Shia Arab gangsters in Iraq and may well aid Iraqi Sunni extremists. The Iranian nuclear weapons program is as much a threat to Iraq as it is to Israel --perhaps more so, since the Iraqis are the Iranians' ancient antagonists.

Baathist Syria continues to provide a haven for "former regime elements" -- bigshots in Saddam Hussein's horrid tyranny. The tyrant's exiled minions have cash filched from the Iraqi people during the dictatorship. There is reason to believe they help both pro-Saddam and al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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